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Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXVI–Surplus Energy From Hydrocarbons: Another Predicament Catalyst


Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXVI

Tulum, Mexico (1986). Photo by author.

Surplus Energy From Hydrocarbons: Another Predicament Catalyst

Today’s contemplation is in response to an article posted on the site Zerohedge, the orientation of many of the comments in response to that article (and increasingly by Zerohedge readers/commenters[1]), and a conversation I had with friends recently on the apparent trajectory of our world and its foundational roots.


As seems typical of our mainstream narratives, events in our human world are typically (always?) the result of human sociopolitical and/or socioeconomic behaviour. Things tend to go well or fall apart because of human political and/or economic decisions/policies. Physical and/or biological aspects/constraints are rarely considered.

If you happen to support the government of the day (or believe their propaganda/marketing), positive events are the result of their actions while negative ones are not; alternatively, if you don’t support them, your interpretation of the world is the opposite. One’s interpretive paradigm/worldview greatly influences our beliefs and understandings of the world, as do the psychological mechanisms that ‘steer’ our beliefs such as confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance reduction, deference to authority, groupthink, etc.[1].

While it is clear that some events are the direct result of human action, believing we have significant agency causes us to tend to view almost everything that occurs to us as a result of our actions. ‘Acts of God’, such as weather events, are often viewed as happenstance — although that too is changing for some (many?).

Human ‘progress’, however, is most certainly the direct result of actions/responses such as our adaptive abilities, technological inventiveness, and efforts towards economic freedom, political transparency, and accountability. Globalisation, democracy, rising equality, human health and longevity have been the outcome of centuries of exploration, struggle against overwhelming odds, experimentation, and tenacity.

We are a ‘wise’ species and our ingenuity has brought us to achieve as near to utopia as we’ve ever been. Just look around you at all the poverty reduction we’ve achieved, healthcare miracles, and technological wonders. There are a large number of humans experiencing living standards and freedoms that few before them ever achieved, including past royalty.

Rarely, if ever, are our interpretations of goings on based upon or include biological, ecological, and/or biogeochemical perspectives.

I am increasingly coming to see that we tend to give ourselves ‘credit’ where none should be given; or, at least, where our behaviour is secondary or tertiary to the physical aspects of our world that have provided ‘temporary’ conditions for such ‘progress’ to arise. As William Catton, Jr. argues at the start of his text on ecological overshoot: “All the evidence suggests that we have consistently exaggerated the contributions of technological genius and underestimated the contribution of natural resources.”[2]

As I have repeatedly argued, energy is everything. Without it, humanity could not exist as it does. And it’s not just the energy of the sun, wind, and water that has allowed our complex societies to reach their current zenith. It is the leveraging of a one-time cache of ancient carbon-based energy stored in a relatively easy-to-access and easily-transportable form.

The energy, and most importantly surplus energy[3], we have been able to extract and leverage to our advantage has ‘fuelled’ our current world to unbelievable heights of ‘prosperity’ — let’s be honest, though, this is only true for some on this planet; the vast majority of humans do not enjoy the levels of ‘wealth’ and ‘energy slaves’ that a minority do. Some have recognised the importance of fossil fuel energy to humanity but then used that observation to rationalise/justify their continued, in fact infinite, extraction/use[4].

I found a statement in article quite telling as to the general trend in such narratives: “Fossil fuels power innovation. Fossil fuels power economic growth. Fossil fuels power our education system, our transportation system, our health care system, and our military. Fossil fuels are key to generating all the wealth that pays for every government program we have. Before we try to eliminate fossil fuels, we need to make sure that we do not also eliminate all the benefits that have come from their use.”[5]

While the connection between our ‘growth’ and fossil fuels is hard (impossible?) to dispute, it seems somewhat amusing, if not naïve, to forward the idea that we will actually have some control or say in ‘eliminating’ fossil fuels, as if the biophysical reality of them being a finite resource is moot should we desire to keep using them — they will become increasingly uneconomic to extract as diminishing returns intensify, regardless of our wants and desires.

I think there should be little argument regarding the observation that fossil fuels have led to the shift away from the human and domesticated animal labour inputs necessary for many (most?) human activities and processes but also, more importantly, human food production (that has been accompanied by an explosion in population). This has not only freed up vast numbers of our population to pursue employment in other areas but allowed for significant increase in the number of people developing and expanding the pursuits that ‘improve’ the social conditions for a larger portion of humanity than might have been possible in the past — this is especially so for so-called ‘advanced’ economies that have leveraged the lion’s share of energy and mineral resources.

And we have enjoyed the benefits of this leveraging for several generations resulting in a zeitgeist that, for the most part, is blind to the finite energy and resource inputs that underpin it all[6]. Just as fish are unaware of the water they exist within and cannot live without[7], most humans are blind to the finite resources we depend upon for our many complexities. It’s notable that many of the stories we’ve created during this epoch of human expansion serve to either keep us in ignorance or, perhaps more alarmingly, to deny/dismiss the physical realities that exist and clearly place the benefits we have achieved directly upon our shoulders.

The result, I would argue, is that humanity has constructed a complex global and industrialised society but believes, for the most part, that the primary underpinning of its development is human-based, as opposed to resource-based. Many have come to believe our ingenuity and technological prowess have been the foundational root of our sociopolitical and socioeconomic complexities. They have rationalised away the finite energy/resources we have leveraged to our advantage and propelled our growth and technology.

We’ve confused a correlation of socio-political/-economic and technological shifts with ‘progress’ and ‘growth’, identifying us as the cause when it has been the leveraging of surplus energy derived from a one-time cache of carbon-based energy that has provided the underpinning of it (and put us well into ecological overshoot).

Now that our energy and material resources have encountered the hard biogeochemical limits of existence on a finite planet, and are experiencing significant diminishing returns on our investments in them — to say little of the negative environmental and ecological consequences of this — we are flailing about blaming our political and economic systems rather than recognising the actual physical limits that exist. Yes, our social systems have exacerbated our predicament but it seems as a result of our reality blindness we are likely to continue misdiagnosing our predicament and chase maladaptive ‘solutions’ (the narratives around ‘green/clean’ energy are a perfect example).

It’s increasingly appearing that we are not the ‘wise’ apes we believe ourselves to be. We are something very different, but not so different to other species that we can forgo the physical and biological limits of existing on a finite planet.


[1] Refer to my short series of contemplations on some of these: https://stevebull-4168.medium.com/todays-contemplation-collapse-cometh-l-fcb81eb216be).

[2] Catton, Jr., William R., Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change. University of Illinois Press, 1980. (ISBN 0–252–00818–9). p. XV. Catton’s book provides a wonderfully detailed synopsis of this idea that we have discounted our physical world in creating narratives to explain our perceived ‘progress’.–

[3] See Tim Morgan’s Surplus Energy Economics for a great overview and ongoing discussion about this very important issue: https://surplusenergyeconomics.wordpress.com/.

[4] https://industrialprogress.com/fossil-fuels-make-the-planet-more-productive/; https://www.heartland.org/news-opinion/news/pope-ignores-fossil-fuels-essential-role-in-human-flourishing; https://www.pressreader.com/usa/las-vegas-review-journal/20151130/281809987817471; https://www.humanprogress.org/celebrate-the-industrial-revolution-and-the-fossil-fuels-which-drove-it/.

[5] https://frompovertytoprogress.com/2022/01/10/the-five-keys-to-progress-part-6-fossil-fuels/

[6] See Nate Hagens’s Reality Blind: https://read.realityblind.world/view/975731937/8/).

[7] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/This_Is_Water).

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXV–Capitalism: One of Several Predicament Catalysts


Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXV

Tulum, Mexico (1986). Photo by author.

Capitalism: One of Several Predicament Catalysts

Today’s contemplation is prompted by an article posted recently in a Degrowth Facebook group I am a member of. The author presents the argument that capitalism and the greed it inspires is the root of our inability to address climate change appropriately. While I don’t agree fully with the perspective presented, it is a great article that goes into much detail far beyond climate concerns and I recommend reading it.

Where I found myself reflecting on its content were the assertions that it is primarily, if not solely, the fault of capitalism for our existential crisis of climate change and the suggestion that it’s possible through degrowth strategies to achieve a utopian-like world with “…universal education and healthcare, and at least 5,000–15,000 km of mobility in various modes per person per year. It offers fairer and better lives for the vast majority of people…” (perhaps up to 10 billion) should the world have the wherewithal to ensure the ‘right’ things be done — particularly the idea that we need to avoid elite panic in responding to our crises (that leads to leveraging of situations to protect their ‘booty’) and adopt the non-elite tendency to ‘sacrifice’ for one’s community.

While I have great respect for the degrowth movement and its underlying philosophy that holds humanity needs to live within the biophysical limits of a finite planet[1], the bargaining/denial I sense from many that support it is where I diverge a tad in my thinking about our plight and future ‘potential’.


While I have come to the firm belief that our ruling elite are primarily driven by a desire to control/expand the wealth-generating/-extracting systems that provide their revenue streams and thus wealth/power/prestige/privilege (leading them to encourage/cheerlead the chasing of the perpetual growth chalice that supports the power/wealth structures inherent in any complex society, and certainly leverage crises to their advantage to help meet their motivation), I’m not so convinced that capitalism’s role in our predicament (ecological overshoot) is much more than a leverage-point (of several) in perhaps speeding up the pre/historical and biological/ecological processes which will eventually bring our global, industrial society to its knees.

Long before ‘capitalism’ took hold of our elite, there were complex societies that ‘collapsed’ due to what archaeologist Joseph Tainter argues are diminishing returns on investments in complexity[2]. Our human societies’ problem-solving proclivity to exploit/extract the easy-to-retrieve and cheap-to-access resources first leads to eventual ‘cost’ increases (particularly in terms of energy) that require the use of society’s surpluses/reserves to maintain/sustain political, economic, and organisational structures (as well as technologies) that serve as our ‘solutions’ to perceived ‘problems’.

Once these surpluses/reserves are unavailable due to their exhaustion and ‘society’ can no longer provide the benefits of participation in it, people ‘opt out’ and withdraw their support — usually by packing up and leaving. This ‘abandonment’ by increasing numbers of people undermines the necessary human, and thus material, inputs that support the structures that hold a complex society together and it eventually ‘collapses’.

Obviously, such a withdrawal of support is virtually impossible in today’s world for a variety of reasons; not least of which are the inability to ‘escape’ the elite’s reach in most nation states — at least for the time being — and a lack of skills/knowledge to survive for very long without the energy slaves/conveniences of ‘modern’ society, keeping people virtually trapped and incapable of opting out. In addition, the ruling elite need their citizens for labour and/or taxes and will go to virtually any length to prevent such withdrawal from the various entrapments of today’s world.

This is not to ignore the knock-on effects of ways in which ‘support’ is being undermined by political, social, and economic policies of the ruling elite. More and more people are questioning the directives issued from upon high and challenging them.

For example, there seems to be growing concern that the gargantuan expansion of credit/debt is quite problematic. For some this is an approach that expedites the drawing down of fundamental resources (especially energy) — ‘stealing from the future’ for lack of a better term. A good argument can also be made that much (most?) of this debt/credit is being created to fund geopolitical competition and siphon wealth from national treasuries into the ‘holdings’ of the elite. This is not to dismiss that a portion is being directed to the population, but I would contend that this is to help provide cover for the inequity that is resulting from the massive expansion of fiat currency — particularly in that ‘hidden tax’ of price inflation that always impacts the disadvantaged disproportionately to the wealthy elite — and to sustain the Ponzi scheme that our economic/financial/monetary systems have become.

I sense we are likely to experience (already are experiencing?) a doubling-down of efforts to control the hoi polloi by our ‘leaders’ as our systems begin to decline in perceived benefits. Tyranny comes in many guises, from narrative management and mass surveillance to incarceration and violence.

Our fundamental predicament is unfortunately overlooked in the somewhat reductionist approach that focuses exclusively on capitalism and climate change/carbon emissions. The following graphic illustrates this perspective with respect to the simplification that can occur when one focuses upon a single variable when complex systems necessarily consist of many intertwined ones with nonlinear feedback loops and emergent phenomena.

Carbon Tunnel Vision

Eliminating capitalism has become the clarion call for many but I’m viewing this increasingly as part of the denial/bargaining that is expanding in our ‘hope’ to find a ‘solution’ to our various crises. In relatively simplistic terms, the view holds that if we eliminate the greed inherent in capitalism and the waste it leads to, humanity can continue to have a technological, global-spanning society where everyone can live happily-ever-after — for example, we could direct our ‘wealth’ to the ‘right’ technology (think ‘green/clean’ energy production and electrified gadgets) and thus sustain our complexities with nary a hiccup.

Unfortunately, I would argue, such rhetoric is not only dividing some very well-intentioned groups/individuals, but causing our fundamental predicament to be overlooked and thus any possible mitigation of it to be mostly dismissed — primarily because the issue is exceedingly complex and in all likelihood has no simple and all-encompassing ‘solution’, but rather a difficult and unnerving shift in thinking and approaches where perhaps just a handful of humans carry on in a ‘sustainable’ fashion[3].

This appears to be even worse than a ‘wicked problem’[4], for these still hold out ‘hope’ for a ‘solution’ should every variable line up ‘correctly’ to help ‘solve’ it. This possibility, as remote as it is for wicked problems, opens the door to all sorts of denial and bargaining — a strong human tendency to help avoid anxiety-provoking thoughts.

I’m increasingly leaning towards the conclusion that the ecological bottleneck our human experiment has created by its vast overshooting of the planet’s natural carrying capacity is far too small for the growing number of us to get through. No amount of denial or bargaining (elimination of capitalism; wealth redistribution; ‘green/clean’ energy) is likely to change that[5].

And then there’s the issue of peak resources, most problematic being that of oil. The ideas promulgated in the article and by supporters of degrowth seem to be somewhat energy/resource blind[6]. The significant (and I mean VERY significant) role played by oil and other fossil fuels in creating an explosion in human resource exploitation and population cannot be stressed enough. It has not only allowed us to access previously inaccessible resources to support our growth but has done so to the point where many of these supportive materials have now encountered significant diminishing returns and, for some, begun to encounter increasing scarcity placing continued use more in the rear-view mirror than some techno-cornucopian future[7].

I continue to believe that personal/group attempts to relocalise as much as possible the fundamentals of living can increase the probability of a region getting through to the other side of the coming transition. Potable water, food production, and shelter needs for the climate should be a focus; not bargaining with our sociopolitical and socioeconomic systems since this can unnecessarily divert energy and resources from the actions that will probably foster greater self-sufficiency and -resiliency — perhaps enough to get through the impending ecological bottleneck.

I believe we have never lived in an ideal world, nor ever will. The constant and repetitive rise and fall of complex societies has demonstrated our experimentations have failed, despite having the best technologies and thinkers of the time. We cannot help ourselves, it would seem. We keep making the same mistakes again and again and again…only this time we have leveraged a one-time cache of ancient carbon energy to create a globalised, industrial world and put the entire species into ecological overshoot while destroying many of any competing species and much of the planet in the process.

The likelihood of everything going ‘just right’ for us, as the ‘bargainers’ hope, is probably even more remote than this Canadian senior ending up playing in the National Hockey League (a childhood fantasy[8]) in the not too distant future.



This article was brought to my attention yesterday and is also well worth the read. It echoes many of my own thoughts about our plight.


[1] See: https://degrowth.info/degrowth

[2] Tainter, J.. The Collapse of Complex Societies. Cambridge University Press, 1988. (ISBN 978–0–521–38673–9). There are competing theories as to why and how complex societies decline/collapse, but I have found Tainter’s to be the most compelling.

[3] In no way am I advocating a sudden ‘die-off’ to achieve this; such an event is increasingly looking to happen via the ‘natural’ collapse that accompanies a species overshooting its environmental carrying capacity, regardless of our wishes otherwise.

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wicked_problem

[5] I realise that stating ‘likely’ also opens the door to such bargaining but I attempt to be careful in declarations that suggest certitude. Few, if any, of our stories about our understanding of the world and prognostications about its future are certain — some just more probable than others.

[6] See Nate Hagens animated series: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLdc087VsWiC7xAS3YTykoRRi1gmNtGZVG

[7] See the work of Geological Survey of Finland’s Simon Michaux, especially:

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/354067356_Assessment_of_the_Extra_Capacity_Required_of_Alternative_Energy_Electrical_Power_Systems_to_Completely_Replace_Fossil_Fuels; a

[8] As a Canadian born at the start of the 1960s in a relatively smallish city (182,000 the year I was born), I was introduced to playing hockey at age four. I have played almost every year since (took a few years off when my children were young) and continue to play regularly. I have played alongside some who have been drafted by NHL teams but never made the next step, and I can attest to the fact that despite my wishes my skill set has never been even close to being capable of playing professionally. I am still struggling to pull off a ‘saucer pass’ or ‘toe drag’ regularly and continue to practise them almost every time I play.

2024: The Year from Political Hell – Martin Armstrong

2024: The Year from Political Hell – Martin Armstrong

Legendary financial and geopolitical cycle analyst Martin Armstrong is predicting political turmoil, civilian unrest, war and a big economic downturn in 2024 in a new report called “The Year from Political Hell.”  It’s not just a US election year, but it is an election year for more than half of the world.  This is a global phenomenon which no one can be sure of the outcome.  Armstrong explains, “This is not just the United States election.  This is what you hear on the news locally.  However, step outside this country, and, for example, Indonesia just voted in a leftist government.  You have the EU going for elections.  You have on May 2nd all the local elections in Britian. You have Russian elections on May 7th.  60% of the world is going to the polls in 2024 to vote for a new government.  You might as well throw them into a tumbler, shake well and see what comes out.  I mean it’s all over the place.”

On the war front, get ready for more mass killing, and don’t be surprised if it goes nuclear.  Armstrong predicts, “There will be nuclear weapons.  The neocons keep telling people on Capitol Hill that Russia would never use a nuke because they know we would use them back. That is nonsense!  If you are about ready to conquer somebody, and this is all they’ve got left, they are pushing the button. . . . These people, all they want is war.  They don’t care.  They really do not care.  They don’t care about the economy.  They don’t care about anything.”

…click on the above link to read the rest…

The Global Deep State: A Fascist World Order Funded by the American Taxpayer

“The madmen are in power.”— Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle

The debate over U.S. foreign aid is a distraction.

That’s not to say that the amount of taxpayer money flowing to foreign countries in the form of military and economic assistance is insignificant. Even at less than 1% of the federal budget, the United States still spends more on foreign aid than any other nation.

The latest foreign aid spending bill includes $95 billion for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

Since World War II, the U.S. has given more foreign aid to Israel than any other country ($318 billion), with the bulk of those funds designated for Israel’s military efforts.

Even so, more than 150 countries around the world receive U.S. taxpayer-funded assistance.

As Forbes reports, “U.S. foreign aid dwarfs the federal funds spent by 48 out of 50 state governments annually. Only the state governments of California and New York spent more federal funds than what the U.S. sent abroad each year to foreign countries.”

Whether or not that some of that foreign aid is used for legitimate purposes, the global welfare system itself is riddled with corruption and waste. As Adam Andrzejewski rightly asks, “Do taxpayers instinctively know that they are funding choir directors in Turkmenistan, filmmakers in Peru, aid for poultry farmers Tanzania, and sex education workshops for prostitutes in Ethiopia?”

The problem is not so much that taxpayers are unaware of how their hard-earned dollars are being spent. Rather, “we the people” continue to be told that we have no say in the matter.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Renewables Are Not the Cheapest Form of Power

Energy Contrarian Featured Image

The CEO of TotalEnergies believes that the renewable transition will lead to higher—not lower—energy prices. That’s a very different view from the popular belief that renewable energy prices are falling so fast that electric power will become ever-cheaper.

“We think that fundamentally this energy transition will mean a higher price of energy.

“I know that there is a theory which says renewables are cheaper, so it will be a lower price. We don’t think so because a system where you [have] more renewable intermittency is less efficient . . . so we think it’s an interesting field to invest in.

Patrick Pouyanné

Many energy analysts and renewable promoters see things differently.

“Renewables are by far the cheapest form of power today.”

Francesco La Camera, Director-General of IRENA

La Camera’s statement is based on a 2021 report by IRENA (International Renewable Energy Agency) that evaluated the levelized costs for renewable energy sources. The problem is that IRENA’s study only evaluated generation costs and did not account for electric power backup and storage costs. Since wind and solar are intermittent sources of electricity, the cost of natural gas backup or battery storage must be included in their levelized cost.

Lazard published a report in 2023 that includes backup and storage costs. The data indicates that electric power costs from wind and solar are about 21% more than from combined-cycle natural gas and 44% more than from coal (Figure 1). At first glance, that doesn’t seem like an unreasonable premium to pay for cleaner electric power.

The levelized cost for electric power from wind and solar with backup is 21% more than from combined-cycle natural gas and 44% more than from coal
Figure 1. The levelized cost for electric power from wind and solar with backup is 21% more than from combined-cycle natural gas and 44% more than from coal. Source: Lazard & Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

In Brief: The energy death spiral grows; Another bad omen; Hobsons choice

In Brief: The energy death spiral grows; Another bad omen; Hobsons choice

The energy death spiral grows

Although it is far from obvious, Ofgem – Britain’s energy regulator is supposed to act in the interest of energy consumers.  As the UK government explains:

“The Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem) regulates the monopoly companies which run the gas and electricity networks.  It takes decisions on price controls and enforcement, acting in the interests of consumers and helping the industries to achieve environmental improvements.”

This will come as a surprise to the millions of UK households struggling to pay energy bills which are – now state subsidies have been withdrawn – higher this winter than last.  Indeed, we are now entering our third winter of eye-wateringly high energy prices, with no obvious respite in sight… the only consolation being that the closure of Britain’s heavy industries has at least prevented widespread power outages so far.

On the downside though, among the millions of households struggling to pay their bills are thousands – and growing – of households who are in default.  Not least because increased energy costs are hitting just at the point when general inflation has eaten into wages, when the Bank of England has jacked up interest rates (causing rents and mortgage payments to spike) and when governments (national and local) have decided to raise taxes to cover their own excessive debt.

So, what to do about the growing outstanding debt to the energy companies?  A genuinely consumer orientated regulator might tell the energy companies to eat the loss – perhaps taking the hit to shareholder dividends or senior management remuneration.  Alternatively, since this issue isn’t going away any time soon, they might tell government that now is the time to bring an end to this quasi-market farce and take the energy monopolies back into public ownership…

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Irony Alert: “Outlawing” Recession Has Made a Monster Recession Inevitable

Irony Alert: “Outlawing” Recession Has Made a Monster Recession Inevitable

Those who came of age after 1982 have never experienced a real recession, and so they’re unprepared for anything other than guarantees of rescue and permanent expansion.

The mainstream view is that recession is caused by economic-financial factors. The mainstream view is wrong, for recession is ultimately caused by Wetware1.0–human nature. Human nature–our innate attraction to windfalls and something-for-nothing, our ability to habituate to extremes and normalize counterproductive dynamics–manifest as economic-financial factors, but these are effects, not causes.

The mainstream view is that recessions are bad, so let’s make sure they never happen. In other words, let’s outlaw them by flooding the economy and financial system with Federal Reserve monetary stimulus and federal stimulus via increased deficit spending.

The history of the past 40 years “proves” these policies effectively eliminate recession: all recessions since 1981-82 have been shallow and brief, basically a spot of bother that lasts one quarter.

Our Wetware1.0 has responded to this “no recession guarantee” in ways that count as unintended consequences. Massive “emergency” stimulus that became permanent policy has created a bubble economy in which low interest rates and unlimited credit for those who are more equal than others has sparked demand for income-producing assets, which then sparked a speculative mania.

We’ve habituated to both the bubble economy and the speculative mania so that these are now considered normal. But behind the comfortable normalization, something counterproductive has taken hold: we’re now addicted to the bubble economy and its crazed twin, speculative mania. If the bubbles pop and speculators go broke, the economy and financial system will both implode.

Without ZIRP (zero-interest rate policy), capital actually has a cost, and the bubble economy cannot survive if capital has a cost. Once capital has a cost, then speculation becomes risky, and speculation cannot survive if risk actually has a cost.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh CLXXVII–Despite Warnings We Have Continued Business-As-Usual and Doubled-Down On Our Avoidance Behaviours


Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh CLXXVII

Rome, Italy (1984). Photo by author.

Despite Warnings We Have Continued Business-As-Usual and Doubled-Down On Our Avoidance Behaviours

The following is my comment on The Honest Sorcerer’s latest piece that highlights the impossibility of bypassing thermodynamic laws (especially Entropy) in our quest for the Holy Grail of a sustainable civilisation; in this instance via a ‘circular’ economy.


While what you argue appears self-evident for the increasingly unlikely prospects of the ‘green/clean’ utopian future a lot of ‘futurists’ predict will unfold as the seemingly endless stream of technological ‘breakthroughs’ come to fruition, it seems that the vast majority of people who even show some awareness of our predicament will ignore/deny/rationalise away the evidence (universal thermodynamic laws or not) in order to cling to their dreams of infinite growth and ‘progress’ upon a finite planet. I even find the argument about physical, material limits is denied by many/most of these people.

This notion that limits are meaningless appears to have got its legs from economists and business ‘leaders’ who have argued that technological progress and human ingenuity trump material limits, particularly due to the idea of infinite substitutability and recycling. History has apparently demonstrated again and again that humans adapt their technology and resource use by finding alternative and/or new sources for their material wants.

What this approach does, however, is not only focus upon a relatively small slice of human pre/history where the leveraging of a number of catalysts to technological change have occurred (especially the creation of debt-/credit-based fiat currency and hydrocarbon use that both allow the pulling of finite resources from the future into the present), but cherry picks behaviours and events.

The processes that contribute to the recurrent collapse of complex societies are minimised/ignored, with a lot of rationalising that ‘this time is different’. We can recycle. We can elect ‘wise’ leaders’. We can work together. We can avoid past mistakes. We can mine passing asteroids. We can innovate. We can migrate to other planets. We can overcome limits. We can adapt. We can slow/control/halt the growth imperative. We can find a means of creating limitless ‘clean’ energy. We can do anything we imagine and set our minds to.

And while these assertions can make us feel better by avoiding the anxieties that arise when we frame things from a perspective where these ‘hopes’ are viewed as magical thinking that avoids reality, they are leading us to pursue the ‘business-as-usual’ scenario (of the 13 possible) painted by the original Limits to Growth study. A scenario where human ecological overshoot and the consequential collapse of population and industrial society were imminent during our current century.

The Limits to Growth researchers proposed that it was possible to avoid this scenario and achieve a sustainable lifestyle but required significant changes be made as soon as possible. In the intervening years, however, our species seems to have ignored the warnings and ‘motored’ ahead with ‘business-as-usual’. And rather than heed the signals our planet and its other species have been sending us (and increasingly so over the past handful of decades), we’ve doubled down on our avoidance behaviours — especially the stories we share about all this and how everything will be alright…somehow but mostly because of human ingenuity and technology, those god-like qualities we storytelling apes possess.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXII–Magical Thinking About the Energy Transition


Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXII

July 31, 2022 (original posting date)

Athens, Greece (1984). Photo by author.

Magical Thinking About the Energy Transition

A really short contemplation prompted by an article posted in Resilience.org from The Rapid Transition Alliance regarding sustaining long-distance trade via electric ships.


The entire narrative around ‘electrifying’ everything is primarily about the marketing of ecologically-destructive and completely unsustainable industrial products while leveraging human emotions about well-meaning care and compassion for the world and fellow species.

I believe the reasoning is simple: those who own the industries and financial institutions that are required for such a transition stand to profit handsomely from the belief that we can have our cake and eat it too, so let’s pour all remaining capital into ‘transitioning’ to something ‘green/clean’.

Only this is a fantasy.

The denial of reality required to believe in this tale not only serves to reduce the anxiety from the cognitive dissonance created when we realise that we live on a finite planet that has blown past the natural carrying capacity for humans and have hit significant diminishing returns on the most important resources to support our various complexities, but also leads to significant magical thinking about our ability to ‘transition’ from fossil fuels (that underpin virtually everything in our complex societies, especially food production, transportation, and adequate shelter) to something equally effective but non-destructive and sustainable.

There is nothing ‘resilient’ about this narrative. Humanity (at least in the form of complex, industrial societies) is not going to ‘recover quickly’ from the energy cliff we have likely already begun our descent from. It seems a misguided and misinformed story that serves to dish out ‘hope’ as opposed to the harsh ‘reality’ that we are in significant ecological overshoot and the primary resource that has led us here (fossil fuels) is in terminal decline with no substitute available[1].

We seem to be flailing about telling ourselves and others comforting tales while deferring to our ruling elite who are hell bent on leveraging our various crises to their economic and political advantage.

It’s past time we stop looking for magical solutions and face the looming hardships that are before us.

Let’s divert our remaining energy and resources towards safely decommissioning those dangerous complexities we’ve created (e.g., nuclear power plants and their waste products, biosafety labs and their dangerous pathogens, and chemical production and storage facilities) and relocalising as much as is possible the procurement of potable water, food production, and regional shelter needs.

Telling ourselves and believing in lies and fairy tales is a sure recipe for the consequences of our well-meaning but ecologically-destructive ways to be significantly worse than they could otherwise be. Ramping up our industrial production of unsustainable technologies not only expedites the negative consequences of our overshoot but worsens our plight by further reducing the planet’s carrying capacity.


[1] This avoids the even more difficult discussion that even if we were to stumble upon a ‘green/clean’ energy substitute for fossil fuels, there are a host of other significant impediments to sustaining an 7+ billion population on a finite planet.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXI–Peak Oil: Not Ready For Mainstream Consumption


Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXI

July 29, 2022 (original posting date)

Athens, Greece (1984). Photo taken by author.

Peak Oil: Not Ready For Mainstream Consumption

Today’s contemplation is based upon a post in a Peak Oil Facebook Group I belong to and the suggestion that the idea of Peak Oil is catching on more broadly and making its way into the ‘mainstream’.


I am not so sure that the idea of Peak Oil will catch on more broadly and make its way into the ‘mainstream’ — except perhaps on the margins during times such as we are currently witnessing where issues pertaining to energy and the cost of it dominates our worldview. This is what has occurred in the past, such as in the shadow of The Great Recession when oil reached it historical high in June, 2008. It will certainly receive more play amongst those who are aware of it and the consequences that flow from understanding it but amongst the general public I am not so convinced.

Not only is it likely that such mainstream recognition and discussions regarding Peak Oil will be limited in nature but I personally have to wonder how much the extent of the significant implications for everything in our complex societies will actually penetrate into a broader awareness, for a variety of reasons. The notion may gain more notoriety amongst an increased portion of the public than it currently does, but very likely not the existential consequences of the limits imposed by waning fossil fuel resources on the sociocultural complexities supported by them (i.e., pretty well everything in our complex societies, including but certainly not limited to food production, transportation, economic/financial systems, trade, etc.); nor is the notion likely to stick around for long or be widely discussed by many in the population given the media’s tendency to ignore/deny its more unsightly impacts on their prevalent narratives (e.g., chasing the infinite growth chalice is a great thing and needs to continue).

In addition, one can already see a wide array of alternative interpretations of our energy ‘crisis’ being put forward[1]. Some of these include: conspiracy by the elite to bring about The Great Reset; insufficient funding/capital towards all forms of energy production; a conspiracy to keep fossil fuel prices high (including the notion that ‘fossil’ fuels are limitless in quantity as they are abiotic/abiogenic in nature); geopolitical uncertainty, particularly in regions where fossil fuels are in significant quantities; misguided investment policy such as Environmental, Social, and Governance criteria; and, of course, the ultimate scapegoat for the world’s woes — Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

While some leakage of the idea of the finiteness of the resource or limits to its extraction has occurred[2], many mainstream pundits have completely ignored the concern as it seems unworthy of consideration, or have questioned the accuracy/validity of the idea and thereby dismissed it.

Some mainstream media has indeed already discussed Peak Oil and some of its implications[3].

Mostly, the topic has seemed to get more attention when fossil fuel prices, especially oil and gas, begin to experience significant increases. But when the prices stabilise (usually at a higher floor) or the media has moved its focus onto some other crisis, the discussion shifts away and it is quickly forgotten.

Why will the concept and implications of Peak Oil be mostly absent from the mainstream conversation and/or dissipate relatively quickly?

Here’s my take. There are two primary reasons that I believe the concept and certainly the significant consequences of Peak Oil are unlikely to penetrate very deeply in to the zeitgeist of our ‘modern’ society, and they are the two main themes I have tended to discuss previously.

First, the elite, as they invariably tend to do, will attempt to leverage the impending crisis (as they have been for some time) to meet their primary motivation — maintenance/expansion of the wealth-generation/-extraction systems that provide their revenue streams and thus power/prestige/privileged positions. The status quo power and wealth structures that arise within the organisational imperatives required in a complex society must be preserved!

Since the elite also ‘control’ the mainstream media, and political and education systems, I expect them to keep doing (perhaps with an even hardier push) what they’ve been doing: sell/market the hopium-laced narrative that human ingenuity and our technological prowess can ‘save’ us from the environmental horrors (i.e., global warming/climate change) of burning fossil fuels. It’s no coincidence that they happen to ‘own’ the industrial processes and financial institutions necessary for such an endeavour.

One need only read the majority of ‘news’ or opinions about Peak Oil and it becomes clear that the ‘solution’ is always to transition to ‘green/clean’ energy and to electrify everything.

Second, the psychological mechanisms that impact/influence human beliefs and attitudes will also kick into gear as stress/disorder increases due to the negative consequences of Peak Oil, especially those aspects that lead our thinking/beliefs astray by attempting to: avoid pain and seek pleasure; reduce our cognitive dissonance; lead us to defer to/obey authority; have us go along to get along (i.e., the need to belong to a group); and, perhaps most significantly, the heuristics and biases that simplify complex issues and confirm misplaced beliefs. Basically we tend to gravitate towards the simple narratives offered by our ‘leaders’ and alter our beliefs to avoid painful thoughts.

And all the above doesn’t even touch upon the overwhelming evidence that fossil fuels (and the concomitant leveraging of technology to expedite our drawdown of a number of finite resources) have been the primary impetus leading to our significant overshooting of the globe’s natural carrying capacity for the human species.

What seems to be completely absent in virtually every ‘mainstream’ discussion about Peak Oil is the importance of fossil fuels in supporting virtually all of our complexities.

There are fossil fuel inputs into everything but especially modern industrial agriculture and transportation. These cannot be replaced by non-fossil fuel energy to any significant extent, if at all. Without relocalising food production in particular, we are setting ourselves up for significant food shortages.

Naïve, then, seems the call to abandon fossil fuels forthwith[4]. There appears zero comprehension of the consequences of that for the very dangerous complexities we have created. But it is also a marketing ploy to shift capital towards non-renewable, renewable energy-harvesting technologies (that depend significantly on fossil fuels). It is increasingly obvious that it is quite counterproductive to continue to chase the perpetual growth chalice (that is one of our greatest challenges that needs confronting) while cheerleading a reduction in fossil fuels.

We have hit significant diminishing returns on our extraction of fossil fuels. This is extremely problematic not only because they support virtually all of the complexities necessary for our very survival but because we continue to be beholden to systems that perpetuate the predicament, especially the pursuit of the infinite growth chalice.

If we do not prepare ourselves adequately and do not abandon our pursuit of growth, we risk massive negative consequences. In fact, it may already be too late to avoid most (all?) of such negative impacts given how far we are likely into ecological overshoot — a predicament I haven’t really touched upon in this contemplation.

A summary of my thoughts is clear from a response I shared this morning on an excellent article by The Honest Sorcerer, entitled Peak Oil Is Back With A Vengeance:

While everything you state is factual and based upon solid data and geological evidence [regarding the reality of Peak Oil], I fear our penchant to deny reality (especially if it is ‘painful’ in nature), reduce our cognitive dissonance (to alleviate stressful thoughts/beliefs), and defer to authority (that we give all too willingly to our ‘elite’) — as well as a potpourri of other psychological mechanisms that impact our beliefs — will once again see Peak Oil discussions/awareness/understanding be sustained/grow only on the margins of society.

Previous bouts of ‘awareness’ have arisen during similar times of stress, especially with regard to energy, but for the most part get lost in the alternative narratives that drown out the clarion calls about Peak Resources and seem directed to distract us from the ugly underside of ecological overshoot and its implications for our misbeliefs about humanity’s future and the magical thinking required to hold that more of what has caused our overshoot — namely technology — will somehow ameliorate/solve our errant ways and existential crises.

The vast, vast majority of people will either choose to ignore/deny the reality of Peak Oil (and especially its implications for our complex societies that completely depend upon fossil fuels for existence) or acknowledge it and then hold on to the rope being dangled by the elite that our ingenuity and technological prowess will ‘solve’ our issues (and, of course, it’s no coincidence that the push by our elite is primarily because they own the industries and institutions that are offered as saviours and stand to profit handsomely from the capital flowing into them).

Even if the concept and some of its significant implications do re-enter the mainstream and actually stick or becomes a common concern, I have to wonder how it will be manipulated by the narrative control managers for the elite. Somehow things are bound to get even more distorted than they are currently, especially given the psychological mechanisms that help to mislead our beliefs (recency, optimism, and confirmation biases particularly).

As with all things, however, time will tell how this plays out…I’m guessing not very well.


[1] A few examples: https://internationalman.com/articles/david-stockman-on-the-all-out-commitment-to-destroy-fossil-fuels-will-it-succeed/; https://www.statista.com/chart/27807/european-gdp-output-losses-twelve-months-after-a-russian-gas-supply-shut-off/; https://www.zerohedge.com/markets/putin-turns-screws-gazprom-unexpectedly-halts-another-more-nord-stream-turbine-european-gas; https://oilprice.com/Latest-Energy-News/World-News/Refinery-Shuts-Down-Due-To-Lack-Of-Crude.html; https://mises.org/library/trouble-oil; https://www.amazon.com/Myths-Lies-Wars-William-Engdahl/dp/3981326369/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=myths+lies+and+oil+wars&qid=1578501116&sr=8-1;

[2] https://www.reuters.com/world/macron-tells-biden-that-uea-saudi-can-barely-raise-oil-output-2022-06-27/; https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-06-27/macron-tells-biden-that-uae-and-saudi-pumping-near-oil-limits; https://oilprice.com/Energy/Crude-Oil/UAE-Saudi-Arabia-Pumping-Oil-Near-Limits-Macron.html; https://www.worldoil.com/news/2022/6/27/france-s-macron-tells-biden-that-uae-saudi-pumping-near-oil-limits/;

[3] Examples from my country’s national news institution, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation: https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/peak-oil-problems-and-possibilities-1.845183; https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/ex-premier-slams-province-over-peak-oil-1.1038638l; https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/record-gas-prices-blamed-on-peak-oil-1.1039028; https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/ihs-iea-electric-autonomous-ride-hailing-1.3983818;

[4] https://www.timesnownews.com/mirror-now/in-focus/world-must-abandon-fossil-fuels-urgently-say-scientists-as-they-prepare-to-present-landmark-ipcc-report-article-90642366; https://www.chesterstandard.co.uk/news/national/19621587.fuel-crisis-good-lesson-need-abandon-fossil-fuels-says-minister/; https://www.duluthnewstribune.com/opinion/local-view-abandon-fossil-fuels-to-avoid-climate-catastrophe; https://www.theguardian.com/news/2015/apr/08/can-world-economy-survive-without-fossil-fuels; https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/18/climate/climate-change-emissions-IEA.html

How De-Dollarization is Likely to Play Out

How De-Dollarization is Likely to Play Out


Much has been written in recent years about “De-dollarization” — the shift from the use of the US dollar as the “international reserve currency” in favour of more diverse bi-lateral and multi-lateral currency agreements and transactions.

The current system has a long and complicated history, but its most essential features are as follows:

  1. In 1944, with the war grinding on and currencies in crisis, most countries signed on to the Bretton Woods Agreement, which “required countries to guarantee convertibility of their currencies into U.S. dollars to within 1% of fixed parity rates, with the dollar convertible to gold bullion for foreign governments and central banks at US$35 per troy ounce”. The US dollar hence replaced the “gold standard” with US dollar reserves, rather than amounts of gold, being what each country was required to maintain to support the fixed rates of exchange. The IMF was simultaneously established to enforce the Agreement.
  2. This replacement of gold with the US dollar created for the US what is called exorbitant privilege. It means that basically they can create (print into existence) additional US dollars without limit and without any requirement that they be supported by assets, and other countries are required to honour them as ‘real’ money. As a result, the US can run up unlimited deficits (eg through reckless military and ‘security’ spending), deficits that would render any other country bankrupt and lead to a crippling devaluation of their currency and severe IMF-imposed restrictions on future spending  (as has happened to many ‘developing’ countries in the Global South).

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh CLXXVI–Confessions Of A Fossil Fuel Shill


Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh CLXXVI

Tulum, Mexico (1986). Photo by author.

Confessions Of A Fossil Fuel Shill

For anyone who has been following my writing over the past couple of years, you will know that I have been critical of non-renewable, renewable energy-harvesting technologies (aka ‘renewables’) and the ‘marketing’ that surrounds them[1]. My critiques are usually focused upon the resource limits and ecological systems-destruction blindness that appear prevalent in many (most? all?) of the mainstream narratives, and the subsequent cheerleading surrounding such products and their ability to transition us smoothly away from hydrocarbon-based fuels/products[2].

On top of this is the argument that as with much (most? all?) in our modern world, the pursuit of controlling/expanding revenue streams to sustain the power/wealth accumulation (and thus privilege/influence) of an ‘elite’ few of our species plays a key role in the narrative management surrounding these industrial products and their uptake; particularly the ‘Electrify Everything’ and ‘Net Zero’ stories[3]. It’s no secret that this is increasingly being accomplished through legislation under the guise of carbon emissions reduction to address concerns with climate change.

As a consequence of my highlighting the biogeochemical restrictions, negative ecological consequences, and the motivation behind the marketing and uptake of these industrial products, I have been the recipient of accusations regarding my motivation for pointing these aspects out. These have ranged from being labelled, in no particular order: a fossil fuel shill, conspiracy theorist, Big Oil accomplice, technophobia cult member, right wing (Republican) supporter, climate change denier, Malthusian doomer, left wing (Democrat) extremist, etc.[4].

And it’s not that I support the ongoing growth in complexities that hydrocarbons has brought. In fact, I have extensively highlighted that this resource has been one of the most significant catalysts to our ecological overshoot predicament and modern societal complexities[5]. Again and again I have pointed out that the rise in complexity of societies through time contributes to the recurring ‘collapse’ processes that pre/history has shown occur, and that hydrocarbons have contributed to this time the phenomena being important on a global scale.

I’ve also pointed out that I don’t criticise these non-renewable, renewable energy-products because I ‘hate’ them, and that I am not unfamiliar with them having constructed my own solar photovoltaic back-up system for my home[6]. I’ve simply come to the realisation and accepted that there are limits to their usefulness in supporting the extremely complex systems of our modern world, and that the industrial processes required to manufacture and dispose of/recycle them are costly in terms of ecological destruction and resource drawdown.

It seems to me that the failure to accept the limitations (and thus consequences) that these industrial technologies bring with them are for the most part ignored/denied or justified/rationalised away[7]. There is little if any recognition that not only is their pursuit adding to the destruction of our very important ecological systems, but that they are contributing to our resource drawdown rather than offsetting it, and making our ecological overshoot predicament worse.

Humanity is not ‘transitioning’ away from its unsustainable path but exacerbating it by both increasing the overshoot and decreasing the natural carrying capacity for our species through the pursuit of these complex, industrial products. And rather than acknowledge our mistaken choices, we are creating stories to double-down on them and attacking the messengers who point out our errant ways.

The vast majority of people are accepting of the dominant narratives because it helps to avoid the anxiety and stress of cognitive dissonance that arises otherwise[8]. What do you mean we can’t have our cake and eat it too? Hang on a minute, that’s not what we were promised…

In our mistaken beliefs that we stand above and beyond Nature, and that our tool (i.e., technology) innovativeness and use can address any issue/dilemma that arises, we continue our journey towards the inevitable consequences that any species experiencing significant overshoot must endure. In our uniquely human way, however, we are sharing stories to avoid this reality — because we can, and by doing so makes us feel better (or, at least, not as bad). We are avoiding pain to pursue pleasure. The most head-scratching to me are the ones that insist physical limits do not exist, and that infinite growth is indeed possible on a finite planet (with zero repercussions, of course).

In the end, we humans tend to believe what we want to believe regardless of evidence that challenges these beliefs. Rather than confront our misguided beliefs, we tend to justify/rationalise them. Our reactions to evidence that contradicts our views tend to be emotional in nature, lashing out at the naysayers and clinging more firmly to our beliefs because having our beliefs challenged is threatening to our personal identity and the social circle/echo chamber we live within[9].

And because we abhor uncertainty, we cling to the certainty espoused by our ‘leaders/authority figures’ even if it is wrong and leading to greater harm. It’s simply our way of avoiding anxiety-provoking thoughts and evidence for as long as we are able — forever if we can.

So, sure, call me a fossil fuel shill or engage in some other ad hominem attack if it makes you feel better when you don’t like what I’m saying about why non-renewable, renewable energy-products are no ‘solution’ to overshoot and that your promotion of them is actually making our predicament worse.

But make no mistake, the future ain’t what it used to be when we imagined it based upon a notion of limitless energy and other resources — not even close. We are, at our peril, ignoring the signals being sent by our planet and its other species in our ongoing narcissistic beliefs that Homo sapiens are in some way ‘special’ and above and beyond the reproach of Nature, the biogeophysical limits of existence upon a finite planet, and laws of the universe.

Payback for our behaviours is sure to be cruel and unforgiving. But then again, I’m just a Malthusian doomer and right-wing conspiracy theorist…or is that left-wing?


[1] See:
A ‘Solution’ to Our Predicaments: More Mass-Produced, Industrial Technologies. Blog Medium
-To EV Or Not To EV? One Of Many Questions Regarding Our ‘Clean/Green’ Utopian Future, Part 1
. Blog Medium
Electrify Everything: Neither ‘Green’ Nor ‘Sustainable’. Blog Medium Substack
Electrify Everything: The Wrong ‘Solution’. Blog Medium Substack

[2] See:
The Pursuit of ‘Renewables’: Putting Us Further Into Ecological Overshoot. Medium
Roadblocks to Our ‘Renewable’ Energy Transition: Debt, Resource Constraints, and Diminishing Returns. Medium
Ignoring Ecological Systems Destruction. Medium
‘Renewables’: Virtuous Circles, Resource Limits, and Ecological Systems. Medium

[3] See:
Finite Energy, ‘Renewables’, and the Ruling Elite. Blog Medium Substack
‘Renewables’, Electrify Everything and Marketing Propaganda. Blog Medium Substack
‘Net Zero’ Policies: Propaganda To Support Continued Economic Growth. Blog Medium Substack
The Ruling Class: Chasing Growth Regardless Of the Consequences. Blog Medium

[4] See:
Thou Shall Not Disturb the ‘Renewables’ Force. Medium
Criticising ‘Renewables’ is Not a Sin. Blog Medium Substack
Sometimes People Don’t Want to Hear the Truth. Blog Medium Substack
Differing Opinions On ‘Renewables’. Medium

[5] See:
Finite Energy, Overconsumption, and Magical Thinking Through Denial. Medium Substack
Fossil Fuels: Contributing to Complexity and Overshoot. Blog Medium Substack
Ecological Overshoot, Hydrocarbon Energy, and Biophysical Reality. Blog Medium Substack
Surplus Energy From Hydrocarbons: Another Predicament Catalyst. Medium

[6] See:
Personal Experience With ‘Renewables’. Medium

[7] See:
Infinite Growth, Finite Planet; What Could Possibly Go Wrong? Blog Medium Substack
Growth Greenwashing: A Comforting Narrative. Blog Medium Substack
‘Renewables’ and the Overton Window That Ignores Biophysical Realities. Blog Medium Substack
Climate Emergency Action Plan: Electrification and Magical Thinking. Blog Medium Substack

[8] See:
Grieving: There Are No ‘Solutions’ to Overshoot. Blog Medium Substack
‘Clean’ Energy and the Stages of Grieving. Blog Medium Substack
Magical Thinking to Help Avoid Anxiety-Provoking Thoughts. Blog Medium
Magical Thinking About the Energy Transition. Medium

[9] See this, this, this, and/or this.

We Are Not Mining with Renewable Energy

We Are Not Mining with Renewable Energy

…and when we do, shit is going to get real

The way we like to think of “renewables”. No smoke, just green fields and a clear blue sky… Photo by Serge Le Strat on Unsplash

There are no “renewables” without mining, an unsustainable practice turbocharged by burning fossil fuels. Yet, advocates of green technologies still believe that we could somehow electrify the recovery of critical minerals, and continue with civilization in a “business as usual but greener” manner. In reality, this could not be further from the truth.


Before we delve into the topic of using renewables to continue extracting metals from Earth’s crust, let’s tackle the environmental aspects of this activity. And while at it, let me also draw your attention to the deep and intimate relationship mining has with burning fossil fuels. What a fascinating — but also disastrous — symbiosis of technologies…

Perhaps it’s no exaggeration to say that the term “building a mine” is actually an euphemism for environmental destruction on a truly industrial scale. First of all, opening a site for mineral extraction inevitably comes with destroying a green blanket of a living habitat. It takes large harvesting machines cutting down all those trees and shrubs — all powered by burning diesel fuel, as there are no power plugs nearby to do all this with electrified chainsaws. Then a bunch of diesel guzzling excavators and bulldozers are brought on site to build roads leading to the would be mining site. Next, a fleet of trucks arrive to haul all those logs away — again, by burning diesel — as the distance and load is usually far-far beyond what an electric semi could cover.

Plumes of diesel smoke everywhere. Photo by Dominik Vanyi on Unsplash

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LX–Infinite growth. Finite planet. What could possibly go wrong? Part Two


Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LX

July 19, 2022 (original posting date)

Athens, Greece (1984). Photo by author.

Infinite growth. Finite planet. What could possibly go wrong? Part Two

This is Part Two of a contemplation regarding what humanity’s future path ‘may’ look like. Part One can be found here.

Based on the evidence found in our pre/history and our biological proclivities (both of which I touched upon in Part One), it would appear we are likely to experience a variety of crises as we increasingly encounter diminishing returns on our investments in complexity and go through the withdrawal of surplus energy[1] that has fed our ‘growth’ and supported our organisational ‘problem solving’ abilities, but also because we have created and come to rely significantly upon systems that require such growth to keep from collapsing (for example, our increasingly debt-based financial/economic/monetary systems that, in turn, support our expanding energy-averaging systems and ensuring overexploited regions can be ‘maintained’ — i.e. globalised trade).

Throw on top of this the overshoot predicament and one should realise that the future is sure to not be the one painted by the techno-cornucopians who optimistically envision more of a Star Trek future than a Mad Max or The Road one.

I, personally, am of the opinion that ‘collapse’ of some type is imminent[2] primarily due to our overwhelming reliance upon important finite resources (especially fossil fuels) that we are now experiencing significant diminishing returns upon (and, yes, it’s an opinion; as is every other view of the future no matter how much ‘science’ is behind it or how sophisticated the model used to project the trends going forward — some are better than others but only the passage of time can ultimately decide which, in retrospect, were accurate).

At the same time we are going to be increasingly impacted by environmental/ecological crises brought about by our ecological overshoot and its concomitant overwhelming of the planetary sinks that previously helped cleanse the waste products of our expansion and technological creations[3] — to say little regarding the impacts that are going to be experienced around diminishing returns on food production and its very real reliance upon fossil fuels. Whether it be increasing frequency of extreme weather events and/or toxic environments leading to physical/physiological consequences for its inhabitants, including humans, the repercussions of our expansion appear to be growing in nature and impact.


How we view ‘collapse’ depends very much on our interpretation of it. It may be ‘the end of the world as we know it’ but that does not mean it will be dark and dreary. That perspective may be one that has been widely propagated in order to ‘scare’ people into believing the status quo economic and power structures need to continue and be supported at all costs. They do not.

‘Collapse’ seems scary because it is mostly about uncertainty, something humans abhor. We don’t know what the future holds and it reduces our cognitive dissonance greatly to cling to some certain future, even if completely and utterly wrong.

I’ve shared before what Tainter says about ‘collapse’ and it’s not all that bad depending upon one’s point of view:

“Collapse…is a political process. It may, and often does, have consequences in such areas as economics, art, and literature, but it is fundamentally a matter of the sociopolitical sphere. A society has collapsed when it displays a rapid, significant loss of an established level of sociopolitical complexity…[It manifests itself] as:
· a lower degree of stratification and social differentiation;
· less economic and occupational specialization, of individuals, groups, and territories;
· less centralized control; that is, less regulation and integration of diverse economic and political groups by elites;
· less behavioural control and regimentation; less investment in the epiphenomena of complexity, those elements that define the concept of ‘civilization’: monumental architecture, artistic and literary achievements, and the like;
· less flow of information between individuals, between political and economic groups, and between a center and its periphery;
· less sharing, trading, and redistribution of resources;
· less overall coordination and organization of individuals and groups;
· a smaller territory within a single political unit.”[4]

Some (most?) of these consequences may actually be welcomed by some, especially those who rail against what appears to be a growing tyranny of the ruling elite as we creep further into the banquet of consequences of our overshoot and diminishing returns on investments in complexity.

However, the ‘collapse’ that may accompany overshoot — a massive ‘die-off’ — seems a tad bit more cataclysmic depending upon how quickly such population reduction occurs. A relatively short recalibration of our population would, for all intents and purposes, appear truly calamitous to those experiencing it and most certainly would create a chaotic disintegration of the complexities we have come to rely upon for our survival. We have recently experienced the knock-on effects of shutting down world trade/economies over the fears associated with a relatively mild novel coronavirus[5]; the disruption of something far more impactful would make this seem very tame in comparison.

It seems clear to me that we have predicaments creating a vice on our continuation of any type of complex society. And my thinking about how this might all unfold has led me to review more closely John Michael Greer’s thesis that attempts to develop an ecological model of ‘collapse’. This ‘catabolic collapse’ suggests, at least in my interpretation, that we will see ‘crises’ that lead to more ‘simplified’ levels of society that then later experience more ‘crises’ resulting in another step down to an even simpler state and so on due to the fact that “production fails to meet maintenance requirements for existing capital…[and as a result get caught up in] a self-reinforcing cycle of contraction converting most capital to waste.”[6]

Given the increasing likelihood of ‘collapse’, it would seem we have two stark choices/strategies (very similar to what Greer argues regarding Catabolic Collapse). Continue on attempting to sustain unsustainable systems, virtually guaranteeing an overshoot die-off of gargantuan proportions. Or, attempt to ‘manage’ our ‘collapse’ as it unfolds by being pre-emptive via purposeful downsizing[7], degrowing[8], and simplifying[9].

What this second option looks like depends almost entirely on those agreeing with this approach. In fact, I sense a growing bifurcation of opinions even within the ‘degrowth’ movement with some arguing for a very slow transition and movement towards ‘green/clean’ technologies and others countering that such an approach is far too late and much more radical shifts need to be made if we are to have any ‘hope’ of making it thru the bottleneck we have created for our species (and others).

Unfortunately, given the lack of consensus, the psychological processes that lead to significant denial and bargaining (to reduce cognitive dissonance)[10], and the fact that the ruling elite will likely fight with all their ‘tools’ to avoid the elimination of their control/expansion of the wealth-generation/extraction systems that provide their revenue streams (their primary motivation), it is most probable we will go with the first option above: attempt to sustain the unsustainable (probably via ‘green’ technology), which will then lead to mother nature choosing how the planet is rebalanced — and our wishes and concerns will be null and void in this scenario.

In addition, given our current geopolitics and the frequency at which a society’s ruling elite choose war during times of stress, rather than diplomacy, I very much see the possibility of a global conflagration of conflict occurring — that could, of course, go nuclear.

As a result of all the above, I am increasingly leaning towards our future being far more dystopian in nature than utopian. The version of dystopia is still very much up to us I believe depending on what we do from this point onwards (my hope is that we make ‘good’ choices but my fear, as I admit above, is that doing so is beyond our capability because of the nature of our society’s power structures and protection of them by those who leverage crises to their benefit; along with the human tendencies to defer to authority and the need to ‘belong’).

Is there a way out of this conundrum? I personally waffle between ‘hope’ (something I wish for but really have no agency in) and despair (see image below).

My ‘hope’ is that we will come to realise that our pursuit of the perpetual growth chalice is taking us to a dark place where few of us survive (and that would be many species, not just homo sapiens) and reverse our trajectory; what can referred to as ‘degrowth’: a purposeful cessation of our current path and ‘deconstruction’ of almost all our socioeconomic and sociopolitical excesses until we reach a standard of living and population level that is ‘sustainable’.

My despair is that we will refuse to do this for a variety of reasons both psychological and biological in nature, but especially because if it is to have any positive impact we likely need to do it deeply and quickly. Instead, we will likely do everything we can to kick-the-growth-can-down-the-road to delay the inevitable and ultimately make the ‘correction’ all the more colossal in its size and scope; especially if, as Catton argues, we will have to undershoot our ‘natural’ carrying capacity by quite a bit given that everything we have done has reduced it significantly[11].

So, basically I believe that if we continue to hold that more technology[12] and money will address our issues, then I tend to think we will drift towards the darker dystopian path. If, however, we begin to ‘collapse’ on our own terms by degrowing, downsizing, and simplifying our societies we might be able to steer our future towards the lighter dystopian future where relatively small, local communities live within their region’s carrying capacity and are in ‘sync’ with the ecological systems within which they live and depend upon. We cannot and should not continue to believe that humans exist above and beyond these systems. Frankly, without them we are destined to disappear as well.

This ‘light dystopian’ vision, if you will, may appear calamitous to many because it is void of most of the technological ‘conveniences’ (what some have termed ‘energy slaves’) we currently embrace and is sure to involve much more manual labour and expose us to many of nature’s uncertainties that we have come to believe we can tame and avoid. But as nature so often reminds us, although we are reluctant to admit it, it always bats last and has the final say.

Given the evidence and my personal inclinations, more and more I’m leaning towards the realisation that it is the ‘scarier’ dystopian future that we, or at least future generations, will experience.

Of course only time will tell since making predictions is difficult, particularly if they’re about the future…


The following image was posted recently by someone on Facebook and I find it is frighteningly apropos to my personal reflections about our predicament:

[1] See Dr. Tim Murphy’s blog for more on this: https://surplusenergyeconomics.wordpress.com/professional-area/

[2] By ‘imminent’ I mean it’s a matter of when, not if. It could be a relatively long-lasting decline as painted by John Michael Greer (https://newsociety.com/books/l/the-long-descent-pdf?sitedomain=row) and James Howard Kunstler (https://www.amazon.ca/Long-Emergency-Converging-Catastrophes-Twenty-First/dp/0802142494); or a relatively quick one as suggested by Jared Diamond for Easter Islanders (https://www.amazon.ca/Collapse-Societies-Choose-Succeed-Revised/dp/0143117009). Also note that I do not ‘wish’ for this outcome; while the ‘effort justification’ aspects of my mind would love to be proven right — given all the ‘energy’ I’ve put into the ‘collapse’ narrative — I have children whom I do NOT want to experience a ‘declining’ world constantly in crisis and with significant uncertainty.

[3] See this for evidence of our breaching of various planetary limits: https://www.stockholmresilience.org/research/planetary-boundaries/the-nine-planetary-boundaries.html

[4] Tainter, J. The Collapse of Complex Societies. P. 4.

[5] Regardless of one’s perspective on Covid-19 and its political roots and/or implications, the millions of deaths attributed to it are but a fraction of several historical pandemics. The mortality rate for Covid has been relatively low compared to other ‘plagues’ that have spread through human populations and resulted in much more significant ‘die-offs’, such as the Black Death (1347–1351), Spanish Flu (1918–1919), Plague of Justinian (541–542), Third Plague Pandemic (1855–1960). https://www.publichealthonline.org/worst-global-pandemics-in-history/

[6] https://www.ecosophia.net/civilizations-fall-theory-catabolic-collapse/

[7] See this (https://justcollapse.org/) for one version of how to do this in a ‘just’ manner.

[8] See https://degrowth.info/degrowth for one version of degrowth.

[9] Nate Hagens’s podcast series provides some great insight into this approach: https://www.thegreatsimplification.com/.

[10] My second university degree was focused on psychology and anthropology (Honours Diploma, 1987, Western University). An Honours Diploma is equivalent to a Bachelor’s Degree but Canadian universities do not give out second B.A.s to the same student and instead give these. At least that was the case during my 1980s post-secondary years. I also have a Bachelor of Education which is the field in which I spent my formal employment (Brock University, 1989, St. Catharines, Ontario); 10 years as a classroom teacher, 15 as an administrator.

[11] Catton, Jr., W.R.. Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change. University of Illinois Press, 1980. (ISBN 978–0–252–00988–4)

[12] See Erik Michaels’s https://problemspredicamentsandtechnology.blogspot.com/ for some insight into why technology is perhaps our undoing, not some ingenious ‘saviour’ for humanity.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LIX–Infinite growth. Finite planet. What could possibly go wrong? Part One


Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LIX

July 13, 2022 (original posting date)

Arles, France (1984). Photo by author.

Infinite growth. Finite planet. What could possibly go wrong? Part One

Today’s contemplation (a two-parter) was begun a few months ago but I’m just now getting around to completing and posting it. As often happens with me and my ADHD, I get thinking about/reflecting upon a topic or idea, record some thoughts while having my morning coffee and the ideas are flowing, and then move on to something else before finishing the task completely (this habit, unfortunately, also impacts my various house ‘projects’ and drives my wife crazy…but after 36 years together she’s aware I just need the ‘occasional’ reminder about the unfinished work — I had forgotten about this writing until coming across it as I was cleaning up some computer files due to ‘extra’ time on my hands given the loss of Internet with the several-day shut-down of one of Canada’s largest providers recently; a blessing, really, as it reduced my screen-time).


A question posed to me recently was: “What does the path forward look like when we say we have to live within our means on a finite planet?”

The answer to such a question is as varied as the people answering it[1]. I am hesitant to provide a definitive answer about what the transition to ‘sustainable’ circumstances might look like given the uncertainty that abounds. I am inclined to believe that any ‘guess’ about the future[2], regardless of the amount of data/evidence one has or the sophistication of the model or the computing power used, is probably about as accurate as reading tea leaves or a bird’s entrails. Not one of us has a clear picture as to what will unfold in the future, for as a few people have been credited with stating (including physicist Niels Bohr, writer Mark Twain, and baseballer Yogi Berra): “Prediction is hard, especially if it’s about the future.”

I’ve long held that complex systems can neither be controlled nor predicted with their non-linear feedback loops and emergent phenomena[3], so predicting complex systems with any degree of ‘certainty’ is a fools’ errand — especially once human actions/behaviours are involved. On top of this, no matter how sincere our attempts at objectivity in such prognostications, personal biases always impact our processing of information as does the paradigm[4] through which we interpret events and project into the future (and we tend to do so linearly since non-linear systems befuddle our primate brains); and, then, of course there are the Black Swans[5] that are persistently circling overhead — those unknown, unknowns that we can’t even contemplate because they’re outside of our personally-confining and -blinding worldview.

When we read about the future we are confronted with a potpourri of thoughts about how it might unfold — most of them, of course, presented with ‘certitude’. We tend to cling to some over others even if the one we tend to gravitate towards holds little in common with observed reality or experience. For as Dan Gardner argues in Future Babble[6], humans do not like uncertainty and despite so-called ‘experts’ being horrible at predicting the future, human psychology compels us to listen and take them seriously — even if we know the prognosticator to have been wrong on countless occasions (I still look at the long-range weather forecasts even though I know quite well that any outside of about 12–24 hours are bound to be incorrect, some drastically so — something that drives me ‘mad’ when my food gardens are in desperate need of rain and the weather forecasters are calling for rain right up until that actual day/hour it is supposed to rain and then change the prediction to no rain, and I am forced to spend a few hours watering my beds — a tendency that seems to be increasing in frequency the past couple of growing seasons; this year, April and May were great for precipitation in my area north of Toronto but as has been happening, it seems, June and so far in July has been way too dry and the 4000 litres of rainwater I have collected in my 20 rain barrels was getting precariously low up until a very recent overnight rain).

I like what Gardner states near the end of his book about discussing the future:

It is informed by the past, it is revealing about the present, and it surveys a wide array of futures. It is infused with metacognition…It offers hopeful visions of what could be; it warns against dangers that also could be. It explores our values by asking us what we want to happen and what we don’t. And it goes no further. It raises issues, questions, and choices, and it suggests possibilities and probabilities. But it does not peddle certainties, and it does not predict.[7]


Where are we on our path into the future given such uncertainty? Well, we have our choice of competing narratives to believe in.

There are some who argue that it matters little or not at all what we do with respect to the existential predicaments we face, for the future is one where we are all FUBAR. For example, 5–10 degrees of average global temperature increase is quite certainly baked into the cake and will in all likelihood lead to the extinction of most species on the planet, perhaps all with the end result being a ‘hothouse’ Earth with an environment similar to Venus. Responses to this eventuality then also range, mostly dependent on whether one holds that the impact will be sudden or drag itself out over millennia. Dystopia, even widespread extinction, is on the horizon and there is no avoiding it.

Then, on the other end of the spectrum, there are those who believe strongly that we can transition somewhat seamlessly to ‘alternative’ forms of energy (or just continue extracting fossil fuels whose ‘scarcity’ is a concerted psy-ops by the ‘powers-that-be’) to keep-on-keeping-on with our status quo complexities and energy-intensive living standards. For most ‘clean/green’ energy aficionados, nuclear fusion or some other as-yet-to-be-discovered technology will provide us with cheap, safe energy; and/or we can mine passing asteroids for any needed finite resources we’ve exhausted, including water. In fact, one day we are bound to leave this over-used rock and colonise other worlds. Perhaps a little bit of tweaking here or there might be needed but given human ingenuity and technological prowess we will solve any and everything thrown our way so there is no need to worry about any ecological system breakdown or resource scarcity ‘problems’ for very long at all. The future is one of unlimited possibilities and utopian dreams, especially if we also redistribute all the wealth tied up in the off-shore bank accounts of the world’s billionaires and slay that evil monster capitalism; then, without a doubt, all eight billion (or much more) of us can live happily-ever-after, holding hands, and singing Kumbayah around the ‘carbon-free’ campfire.

These are perhaps the two extremes of the gamut of possibilities for our future. Where each of us ends up on this continuum of beliefs depends on the worldview we hold and how we process information through that narrow keyhole we necessarily each peer through. And I would argue that what we believe also very much relies upon our personal biases and what we wish to happen, not necessarily upon any ‘factual’ evidence. We are constantly seeking out confirmatory evidence for our beliefs and ignoring or denying counterfactual data or rationalising it to fit into our preconceived notions. There exist very strong psychological mechanisms to ensure ‘facts’ seldom, if ever, alter firmly held beliefs.

So, before I lay out my personal thoughts on what our future may or may not look like (and I am in no way ‘certain’ about any of this, although I do lean towards the more ‘dystopian’ possibilities), let me provide some cognitive context for why I believe what I believe. The paradigm through which I view the world, as it were, and necessarily impacts my perception of this crazy and totally unpredictable world.


I find that pre/history demonstrates pretty clearly that every complex sociopolitical organisation (i.e., complex society) before us has eventually ‘declined’ to a point that it can no longer be considered a ‘society’[8]. The social fabric that held the population together became frayed and people opted out, leading to its eventual ‘collapse’.

In his book The Collapse of Complex Societies[9] archaeologist Joseph Tainter argues that a human society is a problem-solving organisation. This organisation requires energy inputs for its maintenance with increasing complexity necessitating increased energy inputs. These inputs eventually encounter the law of marginal utility or diminishing returns because the solutions we adopt in dealing with problems that arise tend to be the easiest-to-implement and cheapest-to-maintain, but eventually more difficult and costly approaches must be pursued as the ‘easy’ ones have been exhausted. People are attracted to participating in a sociopolitical organisation (i.e., society) so long as the benefits accrued are at least — but preferably better — than the costs incurred. Once the costs exceed the perceived benefits, people choose to withdraw their participation. When a tipping point of participants have opted out, the organisational structures that have held complexities in place ‘collapses’.

It’s obviously much more difficult to abandon the sociopolitical sphere and organisational structures one is born into today than it was in the past. There is not only limited to no space left to flee to as every portion of the planet has been claimed by some nation state or another, but the vast majority of people lack the skills/knowledge to survive without their society’s supports. Self-sufficiency has been ‘bred’ out of us in just a few generations as we have embraced a future based upon different imperatives but especially complex centralised-systems and technology.

This shift has been afforded us by our leveraging of a one-time, finite cache of fossil fuel energy; a cache that has encountered significant and world-altering diminishing returns.


On top of this leveraging of fossil fuel energy and the paradigm shift it has led to in how we perceive the world — and create organisational structures and knowledge within in — we have the very real prospect that we are in the midst of ecological overshoot because we have significantly surpassed the planet’s human carrying capacity[10].

In the past we could overcome carrying capacity limits by migrating to a region as yet unexploited or underexploited by others (wars and colonisation are pretty well always about resources/economics; see U.S. Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler’s essay War is a Racket[11] for more on this perspective). When we pushed up against or exceeded the biophysical limits imposed by our environment in the past, this ‘takeover method’ (taking over from other species and eventually other humans) allowed us to expand for many millennia. We spread into virtually every niche across the globe.

More recently, however, we have depended upon a different means of procuring our needed resources termed the ‘drawdown method’, where we have extracted finite resources to supplement our existence. We have pushed human carrying capacity well past its natural limit by relying upon various resources drawn from our environment. The past couple of centuries has seen this approach focused primarily upon limited resources that have been extracted far, far faster than their renewal rate. Such use could only be limited in scope and temporary in time.

As William Catton argues in Overshoot[12], any species that overshoots its carrying capacity experiences a ‘rebalancing’ of its population eventually. Where the takeover method is precluded, a loss of necessary resources (usually food) results in a massive die-off to bring population numbers down to a level where the environment can recover. Sometimes a species experiences physiological changes that reduces fertility. Either way, population is reduced dramatically from its peak and often to a level far below the natural upper limit of ‘sustainability’ because of the damage to the environment that overshoot has caused.

Given our reliance upon fossil fuels, their finite nature, and the diminishing returns we have encountered because of this — and the way in which their use and the industrial processes they have ‘powered’ have overwhelmed the various planetary sinks that normally help to filter and purify the waste products we produce — it is increasingly clear that we have overshot our carrying capacity and have but the negative consequence of that to experience (or as many argue, are already experiencing).


In Part Two of this ‘essay’ I will paint a somewhat blurry picture of our possible future…


[1] Here I am reminded of a statement by a visiting psychology professor at a lecture on human ‘intelligence’ I attended at Western University when I was an undergrad. During his introductory remarks, with a goal of defining what we would be discussing, he stated (and I am paraphrasing given it’s been about 40 years): “Ask a hundred psychologists the definition of intelligence and you are bound to get a hundred different answers, perhaps more.”

[2] See this recent article by Charles Hugh Smith on the difference between a forecast and a guess: https://www.oftwominds.com/blogjun22/forecast-guess6-22.html.

[3] I highly recommend some reading on complexity and complex systems. A good beginning text is Donella Meadows’s Thinking In Systems: A Primer. Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008. (ISBN 978–1–60358–055–7).

[4] For an introduction to the concept of paradigms see Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. University of Chicago Press, 1962. (ISBN 978–0–22645–811–3)

[5] See Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan: The Impact of the Improbable. Random House, 2010/2007. (ISBN 978–0–8129–7381–5)

[6] Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Fail–And Why We Believe Them Anyway. McClelland & Stewart, 2010. (ISBN 978–0–7710–3513–5)

[7] Ibid. p. 266–267.

[8] My graduate degree was concentrated in archaeology (Master of Arts, 1988, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario).

[9] The Collapse of Complex Societies. Cambridge University Press, 1988. (ISBN 978–0–521–38673–9)

[10] Note that my first university degree was primarily concentrated in biology/physiology (Bachelor of Arts, 1984, Western University, London, Ontario).

[11] War is a Racket. https://ratical.org/ratville/CAH/warisaracket.pdf

[12] Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change. University of Illinois Press, 1980. (ISBN 978–0–252–00988–4)

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