#155. The art of dark sky thinking


One of the clichés much loved by business leaders and others is “blue sky thinking”. An implication of this term, it seems to me, is that there’s an infinity of possibility. Although the mainstream press has, in the past, dubbed me “Dr Gloom” and “Terrifying Tim”, I don’t discount the concept of infinite possibility. I’m an incurable optimist – when I’m not looking at the economic outlook, anyway.

However positive you are, though, if you set out on a lengthy expedition, it’s as well to take some wet weather clothing with you, because blue skies can turn dark grey pretty quickly. ‘Hoping for the best but preparing for the worst’ seems a pretty prudent way to think.

Before we address some of the financial, economic and broader issues which might darken our skies, I’d like to draw your attention to an important distinction, which is that ‘situations’ and ‘outcomes’ are different things. ‘Situations’ are circumstances calling for decisions, but, in themselves, they generally contain a multiplicity of possible results. ‘Outcomes’ are determined by the responses made to any particular set of ‘situations’.

This is important, because a lot of what I’m going to discuss here concerns ‘situations’. Many of these look pretty daunting, but the point about a multiplicity of possible ‘outcomes’ remains critical. Bad decisions turn difficult situations into malign outcomes, but wise choices can, at the very least, preclude the worst, and can even produce good outcomes from unpromising situations.

The gloomy non-science

Economics has been called “the gloomy science”. In fact, economics – as currently practised – may or may not be “gloomy”, but it isn’t a “science”. The fundamental flaw with conventional economics is that it assumes that the economy is a financial system, to be measured in dollars, pounds, euros and yen.

This, in reality, is a huge misconception. Throughout history, systems of money have come and gone. A collector might well buy a Roman coin from you, but you couldn’t use it in a café or a shop.  Money is simply a human artefact, often of temporary duration, which we can create or destroy at will.

The purpose of money is the facilitation of exchange, something more convenient than barter. Its other often-claimed functions (as “a store of value” and a “unit of account”) are flawed at best. The “store of value” concept is particularly unconvincing. If somebody in a Western country dug up some banknotes buried in the garden by his or her great-grandmother, their purchasing power would be dramatically lower than when the biscuit-tin containing them was interred between the cabbages and the carrots. Measured using the broad-basis GDP deflator, the US dollar has lost 62% of its purchasing power since 1980 alone, and the pound has shed 71% of its value. Moreover, many countries change their notes and coins at frequent intervals, invalidating older versions.

Money does have important characteristics – which we’ll come to – but it’s not in any sense coterminous with a ‘real’ economy that consists of goods and services. All of these are products of the use of energy. Once you grasp this fundamental point, a ‘science’ of economics becomes a possibility, but as a branch of the laws of thermodynamics, and not, as now, as ‘the study of money’.

The energy fundamentals

As regular readers will know, whenever energy is accessed, some of that energy is always consumed in the access process. This divides the totality of energy supply into two streams – the consumed component is known here as ECoE (the Energy Cost of Energy), and the remainder is surplus energy. Because this surplus energy powers all forms of economic activity other than the supply of energy itself, it is the determinant of prosperity.

The SEEDS model calculates that, over the last twenty years, global trend ECoE has more than doubled, from 3.6% in 1998 to 7.9% last year. That’s already taken a huge bite out of our ability to grow our prosperity, and there’s no likelihood of ECoE levelling out in the foreseeable future, let alone turning back downwards.

The ECoEs of renewables are falling, just as those of fossil fuels are rising exponentially. This is a topic that we’ve discussed before, and will undoubtedly return to in the future, but it seems unlikely that a full transition to renewables, utterly vital though it is, is going to stabilise overall ECoE at much below about 10%. For context, back in the 1960s, when real economic growth was robust (and when petroleum consumption was growing by as much as 8% annually, whilst car ownership was expanding rapidly), world trend ECoE was less than 2%.

There are two reasons – one obvious, one perhaps less so – why an understanding of ECoE is critical to the environmental debate.

Obviously, if we continue to tie our economic fortunes to fossil fuels, the relentless rise in their ECoEs is going to carry on making us poorer, so there’s a compelling economic (as well as environmental) case for transition to renewables.

Less obviously, whilst prosperity is a function of surplus (aggregate less-ECoE) energy, climate-harming emissions are tied to total (surplus plus ECoE) energy. Essentially, we need to reduce our emissions from fossil fuels at a rate which at least matches the rate at which their ECoEs are rising if we’re to stand any chance at all of overcoming climate risk.

It’s a dispiriting thought that, whilst energy-based economics could make a powerful contribution to the case for environmental action, conventional, money-fixated economics can only interact negatively, by telling us how much it’s going to “cost”. Unfortunately, mainstream economics can’t really tell us the cost of not transitioning.

These “costs”, to be sure, are dauntingly large numbers. IRENA – the International Renewable Energy Agency – has costed transition at between $95 trillion and $110tn. These equate to between 619 and 721 Apollo programmes at the current-equivalent cost ($153bn) of putting a man on the Moon.

Moreover, the Americans of the 1960s had a choice about whether or not to fund a space programme. In economic as well as in environmental terms, there is no choice at all about our imperative need to transition.

The invalidation of futurity

The gigantic costs that energy transition involve bring us back to money, where we need to note something that couldn’t really be done with barter, but is well facilitated by money. That concept is futurity.

Time itself has always formed part of economic transactions, and this was the case even before the invention of the first efficient heat-engine enabled us to tap the energy wealth of fossil fuels. When someone bought, say, a table, he or she was paying for the labour (which, of course, is energy) that had gone into making it. Hiring someone to plough a field was a payment for labour in the present, and engaging someone to build a barn was payment for labour in the future.

But futurity is something different. When someone invests, he or she is looking to the future, hoping that income from the investment, or its future saleable value, will exceed the initial outlay. When an insurance policy is agreed, both parties have in mind the likelihood, and possible cost, of some future eventuality. Perhaps most importantly of all, loan transactions make a lot of assumptions about the future in which the loan, and interest, are to be repaid. Very much the same applies to saving for a pension.

All of these transactions can make a positive contribution to the effective functioning of the economy. Vitally, though, they require making assumptions about conditions at some future date. To a large extent, these assumptions – which, collectively, form a consensus – are based on prior experience. To this extent, decisions taken about futurity are only as good as the consensus on which they are based.

Imagine that you’re an insurer, issuing a policy on a car. Historically, this type of car, and this category of driver, is likely to be involved in an accident once in ten years, so the policy is priced accordingly, remembering that competitor insurance companies are likely to be working on a very similar basis of calculation. Then, though, these cars start crashing, not once every ten years, but once in every three. You’ll lose money, because your futurity assumption has been invalidated.

This is a simple example, with corollaries in any transaction involving futurity. The danger arises when prior experience ceases to be a valid guide to the future.

A good real-world example involves the provision of pensions. Prior to the 2008 global financial crisis (GFC), historic long-run returns on American bonds and equities averaged 3.6% and 8.6%, respectively. Now, though, forward calculations need to be based, according to the World Economic Forum, on returns of only 3.45% for equities, and just 0.15% for bonds. Critically, this doesn’t just apply to funds invested after the fall in rates – it also cripples forward returns on capital accumulated before rates of return collapsed.

This, says the WEF, has helped created shortfalls so large that they amount to a “global pension timebomb”. Since, according to my calculations, a person investing 10% of his or her income in a pension fund before the GFC now needs to raise that to about 27% to get the same outcome – a percentage not remotely affordable for most people – we can almost say that private pension provision worldwide has been rendered inoperable by post-2008 monetary policy.

If my energy-based interpretation of the outlook for prosperity is correct – and I’d contend, simply, that its logic keeps getting more and more corroboration from events – then the entire basis of ‘consensus futurity’ has been invalidated. SEEDS shows prosperity growth petering out, not in the future, but now, and over a period which began roughly twenty years ago.

This invalidated the futurity consensus used during the massive issuance of debt before 2008, and, equally, destroys the assumptions on which subsequent monetary adventurism has been based.

Slow or negative growth – something which invalidates any projection based on pre-2000 experience – means that “secular stagnation” (or whatever euphemism you care to use) isn’t something that the economy will “grow out of”, much as youngsters grow out of childhood ailments. It’s the ‘new normal’, though it’s not the kind of thing that anyone is going to recognize as ‘normal’.

This, sooner or later, can be expected to cause a financial crash on a scale much larger than 2008, and this event (‘GFC II’) is going to hit, not just the banks, as in GFC I, but the financial system, and the very validity of fiat currencies.

Put another way, the ‘real’ and the ‘financial’ economies have moved so far apart that the latter is destined to topple over into the gap.

And this, remember, is the same financial system that needs to find the equivalent of more than 700 Apollo space programmes to finance energy transition.

I hope I’m wrong about financial crash risk, but I can see only one possible way out of the gigantic commitments – debt, pensions and much more – that we have made to a future that isn’t going to be what we thought it was going to be. The theme tune for this could be a song by the late, great Mickey Newbury – “The future’s not what it used to be”.

That only possible way out is the deliberate triggering of inflation. This would allow borrowers to ‘soft default’ their way out of unaffordable debt, ‘repaying’ lenders but in greatly devalued money. But it’s a medicine whose economic side-effects are at least as bad as the disease. High inflation has killed more currencies than any other cause.

‘De-coupling’ fiction and ‘de-growth’ fact

Rather than going into the implications of a financial crisis dwarfing that of 2008, my aim here is to look at the broader economic and environmental issues both before and after GFC II. Optimistically, one consequence of that event could be a general reappraisal of our situation – and this, of course, is where the logic of choices determining the ‘outcomes’ of ‘situations’ becomes all-important.

One set of possible choices is to try to recreate the status quo ante, but a more positive interpretation is that we will finally be forced to face a reality that, hitherto, few have understood, and fewer still have been prepared to confront.

Already, though, here have been some encouraging exceptions. In Britain, for example, chief environmental scientist Professor Sir Ian Boyd, has said recently that environmental objectives can be achieved only if people can be persuaded to move away from consumption.

This followed a report from a committee of legislators which concluded that, “[I]n the long-term, widespread personal vehicle ownership does not appear to be compatible with significant decarbonisation”. The committee said that the government should “aim to reduce the number of vehicles required”, promoting public transport and making it cheaper than car ownership. (In passing, it’s regrettable that the committee also advocated the inclusion of hybrids in the future ban on the sale of petrol- and diesel-powered cars, when it could instead have called for a near-term all-hybrids policy, and a limit on engine sizes).

The situation to be faced can be summarised as follows. Our obsession with “growth” has led us into behaviours which are destructive, not just of our environment and ecology, but in ways that we might term ‘social’, ‘political’ and ‘behavioural’. Now, though, energy-based interpretation suggests that the scope for further growth has ceased to exist. This compels us to change our thinking about the economy.

Of course, I don’t doubt that, even in extremis, a consensus based on conventional financial interpretation of the economy will express outright denial over this, and will come up with yet more hare-brained schemes to follow on from failed credit and monetary adventurism. These may well be attempted but, of course, they won’t work.

The fundamentals are that the surplus energy from fossil fuels which, hitherto, has driven economic growth is being squeezed, from two directions. Whilst the trend ECoE of fossil fuels is rising, our ability to try to counter this by increasing aggregate (pre-ECoE) supply is nearing its limits. The petroleum industry may indeed be guilty of having “cried wolf” in the past over the sorts of prices it needs to overcome depletion, but the reality of ECoE – especially where oil is concerned – suggests that the economics of the industry in many parts of the world really are in trouble. We can anticipate higher production from at least two OPEC countries – Iraq and Iran – and might extend this hope to Russia, though the costs of Russian production are far from encouraging. But US shale production alone is barely economic (if that), and has required, from the outset, subsidy, from optimistic investors and very insouciant lenders.

Whether ‘peak oil’ is brought about by cost-based supply constraint, or by the diminishing ability of customers to purchase petroleum, is something of a secondary consideration. But we do need to note that about 97% of all transport is powered by oil, with electric railways the only sizeable exception.

At the same time, we should dismiss the idea that we can somehow “decouple” the economy from energy. Fortunately, a quite superb recent report from the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) has debunked the concept of “decoupling” so comprehensively that we can defer detailed consideration to a later discussion.

“Our finding is clear”, the EEB report concludes – “the decoupling literature is a haystack without a needle”.

There – political leaders please note – goes your cherished ambition to deliver “sustainable growth”. ‘Sustainable’ is something to which we can and must aspire. But “growth” is not.

Transition is vital – but at what scale?

This, of course, takes us back to transition. I’ve aimed to leave nobody in any doubt about my belief in the imperative need to make this transition. I share the experts’ concern about climate change, and am horrified by many broader issues, such as the loss of habitats and species.

All of these consequences are a price far too high to pay for an obsession, rooted in quite recent history, with ‘growth at all costs’.

But I do question, very seriously indeed, whether we can wholly replace today’s use of fossil fuels with renewables, let alone use them to increase the aggregate supply of primary energy to the economy.

Financially, a capital requirement of $95tn to $110tn, even spread over thirty years, suggests that we need to be investing an average of about $3,400bn annually, against which actual spending (last year, $304bn) simply doesn’t cut it. Unit costs will continue to decrease. But so too – in a world with diminishing prosperity, and with a near-manic prioritization of immediate consumption over long-term investment – will our capacity for investment.

Then there’s the sheer volumetric scale of what needs to be done. In 2018, the world consumed more than 11,740 million tonnes of oil equivalent (mmtoe) of oil, gas and coal. Replacing that, again over thirty years, requires annual additions of output from renewables averaging 390 mmtoe, from a current base of 561 mmtoe. Last year’s actual increase was only 71 mmtoe, and the rate of capacity expansion has stalled. Even the 390 mmtoe number assumes no further increases in energy supply.

The third consideration, in addition to capital requirements and volumetric scale, is resources. Transition to full like-for-like replacement of fossil fuels would require vast material inputs, most obviously steel, copper and plastics. Ironically, the supply of these inputs currently relies very heavily indeed on the use of fossil fuels.

Back in the 1960s, the television series Thunderbirds looked ahead to a near future in which nearly everything – from cars and trucks to aeroplanes, ships, space rockets and, perhaps, even the humble lawnmower – was going to be nuclear-powered. Some of today’s portrayals of the future as a bigger, cleaner, glossier version of today look like similar techno-dreaming.

The idea that we’ll be driving just as many (or more) cars as we do today (except that they’ll be electric), and that we’ll be taking just as many flights (but in aeroplanes powered by batteries) seems pretty implausible.

Both economic and environmental reality suggest a need to embrace the concept of de-growth. The trick will be so to manage it that an economy that is smaller in size is also more in tune with human needs.

777 thoughts on “#155. The art of dark sky thinking

  1. That’s quite right, I think, about he EU having a core bias against democracy and in favour of rule by technocrats, due to the unfortunate events of the 1930’s in Europe.

    Unfortunately, if you allow votes and referenda, only to trample on the results, you create just the atmosphere of disillusion and disgust which favours dictators or revolution, whether of Left or Right……

    It may amuse you to learn that Brits of the 1940’s were often bemused to find themselves described by Yanks as living in ‘a feudal state’, which is what they expected to see as they landed in Britain, the great island aircraft carrier. Fancy dress and a monarchy is not feudal…..

  2. As for politicians keeping busy, my step-mother is always rushing about as an MP in Spain, and accomplishes….nothing at all.

    Perhaps that is best?

    • No. Humans were able to create an energy crisis by cutting down all the trees for charcoal long before Henry Ford. One of the reasons Britain tried to hang onto the American colonies was to supply ship masts for their navy (which once ruled the waves).

      Such observations are behind the Odum’s formulation of the Maximum Power Principle.

      Humans also do not understand the declining returns to scale. For example, adding a teaspoon of sugar to a cracker improves the taste greatly. Adding another tablespoon to baklava does nothing at all. But we have Diet Doctors lambasting the food companies for small additions of sugar, while the public goes after maximum sugar.

      Human’s inability to find the Center is behind much of John Michael Greer’s hostility to collapse scenarios, I suspect. Hard experience will teach us, as we bump down notches in terms of using energy. I’m not sure he is right on that point, and suspect for reasons I won’t belabor here, that a Seneca Cliff is more likely.

      The Center Cannot Hold.

      Don Stewart

    • Don (Stewart)

      I respect JMG greatly, and acknowledge that he has been right far more often than he has been wrong, but I too think that his prediction that we will see a long, grinding downhill slide rather than an abrupt collapse will be proven incorrect.

  3. @Donald
    Also worth checking out:

    I’m just recopying this from Gail Tverberg’s blog. She likes it. Also, the TED talk (which has apparently been withdrawn as an ‘official’ talk) is interesting…you can click through to it. The speaker makes the point that it takes 2 parties to ‘create jobs’. It takes the maker and the consumer…otherwise: no job is created. So the speaker attacks the Republican notion that constant reductions in taxes on the rich are justified by ‘job creation’. The current (as of yesterday) post by Max Keiser and Stacey discusses how monetary velocity is at an all time low, and how the marginal dollar tax rate has been reduced drastically for the rich, but not at all for the lower tiers. The highest tax rate is actually the well paid professional…not the billionaire hedge fund manager.

    Once again, there is no understanding of the decline in value as scale increases. Parenthetically, do you think that the US military is 10X as effective as the next most powerful military just because the US spends 10X more money?

    Don Stewart

  4. Steve Keen…Eject the Economists from the IPCC

    The incredible stupidity of Economists.
    Don Stewart

    • Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado
      To illustrate the important point raised by the Economists, but which they are woefully ill-prepared to deal with.

      I was watching a video made at about 7,000 feet elevation near Colorado Springs, CO. The geography was once a very rich swamp, long before the Rocky Mountains formed, which included dinosaurs and gigantic plants. The temperature was much higher than anything we project might happen under our current warming regime. The very warm and wet environment was ideal for laying down beds of the plant material which became coal and oil and natural gas. My question:
      What’s so bad about that? It’s highly productive, so what’s the problem?

      The problem, in a nutshell, is the speed at which humans are changing the climate. Take, for example, beach sand. That sand is created by geological forces which act across geological time. But humans are in the process of raising sea levels so rapidly that there will be no material creation of new sand and so all the beaches in the world will be under water in the near (geological) future. The destabilization of the Greenland ice sheet and the West Antarctic ice sheet, which have already occurred, tell us that.

      So what happens when much of the most valuable agricultural land and all of the coastal cities and sea ports are under water? Can we confidently expect that the cost may be 5 percent of GDP, and, of course, our assumption is that GDP ought to be rising about 1 percent per year due to what boils down to trend factors…so GDP will be very much higher in the future regardless of the rise in sea level?

      The people who study such questions seriously end up with Guy McPherson’s near term human extinction scenarios…but they are mostly petrified by terror and don’t want to talk using McPherson’s language.

      My point is that the time scale of geology is not a human time scale. Here is another human blindness: failure to understand Deep Time. Somebody wrote a book about it a decade or two ago. Geological time is not the time we evolved to think much about. Continental drift is not relevant to our lives, and so we can safely ignore it…until earthquakes happen.

      This perspective ignores all the other physical limits the Economists assume away. They only add to the stupidity.

      Wise parents would not let ignorant Economists play with these toys.

      Don Stewart

  5. MIT paper on energy vs. money

    Click to access SWP-1353-09057784.pdf

    The paper is referenced in Tim Garrett’s twitter account. It is interesting that the subject keeps coming up. But the Economists always seem to go back to money.

    I think that one reason is that politicians and the rich are much more interested in the distribution of wealth than the creation of wealth. It’s more important to have the most expensive house in the neighborhood than it is to own a house of some particular value. And it is money that determines distribution. Energy is unforgiving…the system either produces heat or electricity and is capable of doing work or it isn’t. Money is very slippery. One can get it by backbreaking labor or Ponzi schemes and everything in the middle. One can get money by producing ONLY bad stuff.

    Don Stewart

    • Money, money…..

      What one should try to understand about the very wealthy, is that any diminution in the absolute quantity of their money and estimated value of their holdings is seen – is felt – by them a great loss in the potentiality of their life, in so far as their imaginary self-representation conceives of it.

      So, a man who is worth, say, £40 million, and has lost a mere £5 million or so, will tell you that he ‘feels very poor’ and become very stressed and even angry. He can still do pretty much anything he pleases, but that is not the point.

      I have heard this sort of thing myself in conversation, absurd as it may sound, and is.

      It is not ‘greed’ as such, it is a mental illness. ‘Money poisoning’……

      The ‘poor’ (a term I hesitate to use in respect of people living in the West ) have, of course, their own peculiar mental failings and fantasies. In fact, they are often more ‘greedy’ in the proper sense of the word, not having learned the utter emptiness of superfluity…….

    • There’s a very good book about this, called “Affluenza”, by Oliver James.

      Ideally it should be read alongside “World on Fire: How Exporting Free-Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability”, by Amy Chua.

  6. You can certainly get money producing only bad stuff. Moreover, you can get real money with false coin, or mere promises: a curious system of deceit and fantasy we have created.

    Our brains have evolved mostly to consider ‘Will I be able to light a fire tonight and have a meal under shelter; and what are my chances of surviving an encounter with this armed stranger?’

    Answered satisfactorily, there has been little need for further elaboration in thought.

    No wonder our little toys have got us, and the planet, in such a mess……

  7. The error of J M Greer, who has published much of interest in relation to Collapse themes, is that, as he explained last week, he has ditched one earlier persuasive economic model – a general global collapse due to excessive fragility in the system, Peak Oil, ecosystem disintegration, etc, – and replaced it with a historically-based civilizational collapse model; hence his theory of a ‘catabolic collapse’ over 2-300 years.

    He believes that a succession of extemporised patch-ups will hold the financial system together for quite a long time.

    This is far from persuasive, taking everything in to account.

    Personally, I am more inclined to a collapse over less than 100 years, starting in the 1970’s – so we are now quite far in, and very near to any tipping-points, whether financial and ecological.

    I also find that this increases the zest of being alive!

    • I agree, Xabier. I stopped reading JMG a long time ago, when I realized that his language is intentionally too vague to pin him down to anything meaningful or particularly useful. It allows him to sound incredibly authoritative, when he isn’t really committing to anything too particular about anything. He is way too wordy, and speaks with way too much self-assurance about the way things are going to be. I concluded that primarily he is in the business of selling a vision of a possible future to his readers – appealing in its regrounded humanity – that will permit his readers to deal with THIS life. It’s a religious approach, not analysis, and I don’t have the patience or desire to read 3,000 words around one nugget of insight.

    • I also agree with Xabier and Jeff. You can add Chris Martenson, as he charges $s to get his “inside” info. Few pundits in this arena make clear, brief statements, and those that do so, often don’t admit the were wrong. Charles Hugh Smith is a straight shooter. Jim Kuntsler is as well, and he is usually clear about what is his opinion vs what is a prediction.

  8. Unfortunately he’s rather boxed himself in, and will defend the dubious thesis of ‘catabolic collapse’ to the last breath, which is a pity.

    However, I do think it’s valuable that J M Greer does encourage people to face the future with determination and hope rather than lapsing in to despair; to grow their own food, learn wider skills, etc, all good stuff; and the comments section can be very wide-ranging and thoughtful.

    He’s also taught me a great deal about the ways of thinking of magicians, which I have always been curious about, without wishing to touch magical practices in any way.

    He also seems to have grown a bit milder with people who disagree, (although Don unfortunately got banned for going off-topic!).

    His emphasis on an ethical approach to life, the value of gradual change rather than sudden total revolution, are helpful influences and I wish him very well.

    After all, we are all groping in the dark with this topic….

    • JMG and getting banned
      I can be stubborn. JMG was belittling a politician I know practically nothing about, because the politician suggested farm to fork food as a solution to problems. Having met JMG about a decade ago, and learned that he left Ashland OR at least in part because it was too ‘green’ or ‘showy’ or some other adjective like that, I was not surprised. Because of what I know about food (10 calories in, 1 calorie out, in a world increasingly short of energy), I think farm to fork, and especially garden to fork, has to be part of any solution. My iconic image is a group of farm workers sitting down at a table under a tree and eating their lunch prepared by the farm wife from the morning harvest…as farm to fork as it gets. When I worked at the farm, we workers took home all the ‘uglies’ we could eat…real farm to fork eating. JMG was determined to bad mouth the politician, and wasn’t going to listen to any facts about food and farming and wasn’t going to accept my explanation of farm to fork. Digging a deeper hole is a problem for people with Asperger’s. Greta Thunberg has remarked that her Asperger’s helps her stay in focus. Maybe I should have just looked the other way. On the positive side, JMGs determination probably helps him keep on riding trains rather than flying, and living very modestly….just as Greta’s prompted her to sleep by the railroad tracks on the way to Davos. I have no opinions at all about his Wizardry vocation.

      At any rate, I don’t need any more frustration, and I find not trying to participate in discussions on his site helps me remain as calm as I can get. I think that the argument does illustrate some basic problems… the world has trouble dealing with reality.

      Don Stewart

    • I can’t deal with JMG, Orlov, Martenson, and others preaching *a blame game.* Probability analysis is the method which gives the best chance to minimizing suffering going forward. Egos get in the way. Few with megaphones/pulpits will wager for charity on outcomes at longbets.org They can’t risk losing! No balls. Money rules them.

  9. Dr. Morgan’s Numbers in a Context
    (harking back a couple of decades to ‘the Context of No Context?)

    There are two thought provoking, but depressing, or maybe liberating?, essays on cultural collapse worth spending a few minutes reading. The first is Dave Pollard’s essay on what has become of journalism and music in his blog HowToSaveTheWorld. The article is titled No Accounting. The subject is the utter waste generated by advertising and it’s role in pushing us over the cliff.

    The second is Ilargi’s essay on the idiocies of the current Impeachment noise in the United States in his blog TheAutomaticEarth. The article is titled Who’s Afraid of Whom?. The subject is ‘nonsensical propaganda”

    My unsuccessful attempt to have an adult conversation about the realities of garden to fork vegetables is only a tiny peek into the colossal scale failures which constitute the dominant way our world works.

    I saw bits of an interesting video on gardening and gardening style farming yesterday. Part of it involved mother and daughter learning to appreciate what the sap in a freshly picked piece of lettuce is all about, and how that piece of lettuce will not be the same nourishing plant for a human one hour later. Which explains why the Sonnenburg family of researchers at Stanford dug up their yard and planted veggies for their two daughters to graze. They specifically wanted the daughters to pull a carrot out of the ground, brush it with their hands to get excess dirt off, and eat it.

    But the juggernaut rolls on. We should all recognize the rare gift we are being given by Dr. Morgan.
    Don Stewart

    • Who ever trusts in intelligence services anyway? A full record of their balls ups would be very illuminating.

      In this case, they followed superficial indicators: good work record, diligent, very quiet manners.

      This accumulated social credit, as it were, so his blatant defects were not noticed and negative indicators brushed aside.

      Interesting, too, that a handicap seems to have led in part to mental disorder – but PC thinking would never admit that possibility……

  10. For those with time and energy and creative impulses
    Watch about 25 minutes of this video on Alzheimer’s (and closely related to all other metabolic diseases from diabetes to cancer):

    The content is very general, with specifics to be fleshed out later in the series. But what I want you to notice is that the problem is multi-faceted. It involves everything from society (high stress, high chemical load, long work days, denial of circadian rhythms) to family life (disintegration of extended families) to personal choices (what you eat, whether you walk or ride, whether you master simple stress reduction techniques, what you think, whether you apply yourself to solving complex problems) to the very nature of capitalism (searching for answers which involve spending money in commercial businesses) to government policies (money for hopeless ‘treatments’ but little for diagnostic tests which motivate changing behavior, continued government support for toxic chemicals).

    I sit in a privileged position. I know enough to be dangerous. I am a retired person with enough income (for now) to afford a lifestyle which gives me considerable protection against metabolic disease, and the world immediately around me is not that threatening. Still, I have to use considerable creativity to maintain maximum protection and performance. A single mother of 3 working 3 jobs has a vastly more difficult problem to solve.

    But I would also like you to observe that keeping BAU going will exacerbate all of the factors that I listed above, and will add new or intensified problems due to resource depletion and the crowding out of the lower income groups as assets become ever more concentrated in the tenth of one percent. Alternatively, contemplating a world with severely restricted access to energy for 7.7 billion is equally threatening.

    It is curious to me that two of the people reportedly under consideration for the Nobel Peace Prize are Greta Thunberg and a Mexican indigenous woman who promotes psychedelic drugs as one answer to getting people to live a life in tune with nature….which would incidentally wipe out metabolic diseases. Is there some belief, in the rarefied air of the Nobel committee, that the jig is up?

    Don Stewart

    • Having paid a brief visit to London today, I cannot see how anyone can live an ordinary harrassed life there and not fall sick, in very way.

      My own stress comes from watching ‘Green’ urbanisation creep towards me in this delightful semi-rural enclave. Truly the Shadow of Mordor….

      Thankfully, I still have plenty of logs to split with (US-made and beautifully balanced!) axe, sledge hammer and wedges, one of the most calming and purposefully sane activities left.

    • If you need drugs to change your reality, you need -surely – to change your reality……

    • Maybe we should intensify AI to bring some sanity.

      Humans are, in my opinion, apes with the ability to destroy their environment faster, and call it ‘intelligence’.

  11. Jim Kunstler
    I assume most of you know how to get to his blog…which has a title I imagine would get my comment erased.

    To no one’s surprise, he sees something evil lurking in the wings. Then he says that ‘America can’t cope with reality’.

    That’s about what I said above.

    Don Stewart

  12. Dark Sky Thinking; Blue Sky Thinking

    Bacteria contradict Darwin: Survival of the friendliest

    There are many reasons to be gloomy about the prospects for humanity over the next couple of weeks, or the next few centuries. One way to summarize our predicament is selfishness and lack of foresight coupled with ruthlessness and depleting resources.

    The above study may provide some different ideas. Bacteria, which are an essential basis for life on this planet, are able to operate quite differently from the way we usually think about humans. Indeed, we formulate ‘laws’ of nature that bacteria feel quite free to ignore.…language may be the enemy. Being able to see common interests and adapting accordingly doesn’t fit some Darwinian orthodoxy….but so what?

    What I suggest is that humans may have a highly developed trait of inventing ideologies which strongly inhibits mental flexibility and thus results in narrow behavioral diversity. In the face of existential challenges, such narrowness may be fatal to the race.

    Bacteria seem to be able to sense the ‘common good’, and behave accordingly. As I have remarked before, there is a vast sea of genetic material, of which only a tiny amount is peculiarly human. We swim in a sea of genetic material supplied by bacteria, archaea, fungi, fragments, and viruses. The bacteria, as demonstrated by the referenced study, are experts at adding and shedding DNA in order to enable certain chemical operations and also to assemble the differentiated parts into a coherent whole, including what we might call social groupings.

    Humans, famous for using tools, are best seen not as something created by God, but instead as an assemblage of microbes and specifically human capabilities and signaling networks coupled with an intelligence which allows them to offload much of their cognitive load from the brain to helpers such as counting using fingers and toes or tally sticks, and on using domesticated species for their own purposes, and inventors of new tools.

    A colony of bacteria is dependent on the assembly of specialists (which may evolve on the fly), just as humans are dependent on both the microbes and also macro sized tools. To the extent that the tools are dependent on sources of energy other than the sun, humans have chosen a perilous pathway in which decline in fossil fuels could bring the human enterprise to an end…and also in which continued use of fossil fuels could bring the human enterprise to an end.

    If we want to engage in a little Blue Sky thinking, then we take a look at how the bacteria do it, and assume that evolution hasn’t bred out of us the basic capabilities, and try to organize ourselves as intelligently as the bacteria.

    Don Stewart

    PS. Please regard the above as an extremely naive attempt to rethink how we got into our predicament, and how we might get ourselves out of it. I have undoubtedly displayed the extent of my ignorance.

  13. Well, Houtskool, at school we were taught that Hom.Sap is the wonderful species ‘that can adapt to any environment’ – deserts, mountain ranges, the Arctic, etc.

    Observation shows that the real talent of mankind lies rather, on the whole, in adapting any environment into something barren and poisoned

    We can also take Paradise and turn it in to something that quite simply sends us quietly mad – studying the history of the very pretty villages which once surrounded London and are now urban high-density nightmares is one example.

    Where William Blake supposedly saw ‘angels in a tree singing’ is now one of the last places you would wish to live, and full of miserable-looking people, Peckham; but only 200 years ago the Churchill family had a country house there for rest and clean air…..

    Fantastic real estate prices though.

  14. Landscape View; Change
    When people are shown a picture of a vast mountain landscape, they think more broadly. With the notion that adaptation to whatever is in our future will require broad thinking, I suggest this follow up video on the subject of Alzheimer’s:

    The gist of the presentation is 30 or 40 minutes, followed by a sales pitch. The overall message is that your brain is tremendously flexible, almost regardless of how much damage you may have done. Drinking beer in college turns out not to have been a death sentence…as many doctors are prompted to say about their memory of medical school.

    What you will hear:
    *Genes are not death sentences…they just code for proteins. And mostly genes act in suites of genes. And they are turned on and off by the way you live your life.
    *Your grandmother probably gave you very good advice about living your life to enhance brain (and other) functions. As a friend of mine in the garden business observes, today we spend huge amounts of money for consultants to tell us what we all already know…but don’t practice.
    *You can grow new brain neurons.
    *You can rewire your brain.
    *Challenges are required (such as thinking broadly?)
    *Inflammation is a key obstacle.

    (I’ll add my two cents on the subject of inflammation. Much of inflammation happens when we develop ‘leaky gut’. That is, toxins that exist in everything we eat or drink start leaking from the gut into the body proper. Proper diet and avoidance of chronic stress are essential elements in avoiding leaky gut. Feeding the gut microbe lining with fibers we don’t digest is a key requirement (e.g., eat veggies). In addition, environmental toxin exposure is a strong contributor to inflammation. Think of mercury or lead persisting in your body for years.)

    From the perspective of Blue Sky/ Black Sky, it seems to me that we no longer have the option of BAU. Therefore, change will happen either because humans change behavior or in spite of human behavior and wishes. How well you fare as an individual and the ‘microbe group’ that you are a member of depends heavily on paying attention to what this science is telling us.

    Don Stewart

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