Ed. note: Nate Hagens gave this talk on Earth Day on April 23, 2018 at The Land Institute, Salina, Kansas. What follows is an edited transcript of the talk.

The Human Predicament

Around 11,000 years ago, as the last ice age ended, our ancestors – in no fewer than 5 locations around the world – took advantage of the new conditions and tried an agricultural way of life.  Fast forward through two momentous phase shifts in human history (agricultural and industrial revolutions), and here we are: approaching 8 billion, seeking freedom, experiences, and material wealth all derived from physical surplus.  As many are aware, the procuring of this ‘surplus’ is also impacting the larger sphere outside our homes, (we call it “Earth”) in increasingly deleterious ways.  Yet, at an annual global growth rate of 3%, which most governments and institutions expect, we would close to double the size of energy and materials it took us 11,000 years to amass, in the next 25 years.

Under current trends, a college student today would see over 2 such doublings in her lifetime. (yes,  2Xè 4X in size by the time they’re 70).  Is this possible? Is this desirable?  What are the variables that will influence this trajectory? What would be the impacts if it happens?  And if it doesn’t? There currently is no natural entity in our society charged with such questions.  Or answers to the questions.  But perhaps there should be.  A systems synthesis which integrates aspects of energy, the environment, the economy and human behavior is a prerequisite to understanding what is unlikely, what is possible, what’s at stake, and ultimately what to strive for and work towards.

The Key Continuums

My own conclusion is that The Next Doubling is now no longer possible.  In the coming decade we are going to have to collectively deal with what I refer to as the Great Simplification.  

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