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Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh CLVI–Peak Oil, Complexity, Psychology, Magical Thinking, and War

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh CLVI

Mexico (1988). Photo by author.

Peak Oil, Complexity, Psychology, Magical Thinking, and War

Again, some sharing of my comments and others’ on a couple of recent FB Group posts.

First, a post from the Peak Oil Group I am a member of where some great conversations happen. In this particular situation, the comments were in response to my last Contemplation.

SH: I was with a group of technical people recently, engaged in conversation about a very wide range of issues, and when I pointed out that almost no one among engineers and entrepreneurs are striving to address future energy and resource needs, rather, the vast majority exhibit a myopic fixation toward devising increasingly complex ways to use up fossil hydrocarbons. Well… Some folks interrupted and pretty much drowned me out with a kind of “hear no evil” mantra, extolling the virtues of technology and human ingenuity. I don’t even think it was a conscious response, but a kind of unconscious impulse, an eruption of vocal energy resulting from cognitive dissonance. It seems apparent that humans are not psychologically equipped to handle large scale existential threats or crises. I guess what I’m suggesting is that it isn’t just elites who will kick the can down the road to maintain their status quo, but that pretty much everyone will respond to things like Peak Oil in a way that’s unquestionably irrational or egocentric in relation to the magnitude of the challenge. That’s my take on it anyway…

Me: SH, I completely agree. I suppose that’s one of the reasons I find the impact of our innate psychological mechanisms/processes so fascinating to explore and try to understand. I think a big part of our blindness to limits and the consequences of chasing the perpetual growth chalice is our ‘trust/faith’ in our various complex systems (and those who ‘control’ them). This has us engaging in significant magical thinking and believing that we can ‘adapt’ (via our technology and ingenuity) to the various predicaments we face. We cannot fathom that recent adaptations have run their course and we are on a dead-end trajectory. Psychology suggests our minds protect us from such anxiety-provoking thoughts regardless of the evidence to the contrary. It doesn’t matter what reality/facts/evidence demonstrates; it’s what we believe that rules.

PW: Steve Bull, Yes, extreme compartmentalism.

JR: Steve Bull, I started listening to a Derrick Jensen interview last night (suggested by a post here by Alice Friedman.) What I took from it is that it’s not human psychology in a vacuum. Different technologies have their own built-in ideologies that influence human ideologies. It was a bit esoteric, but it sort of made sense. Very interesting.

PW: JR, Yep, they have their religion, their science, their family, their whatever.

SH2: SH, what I’m wondering now is why is it possible (for governments, or anyone) to convince people en masse that it’s necessary to go off to war and likely be maimed and/or killed, and endure all the other hardships of war………… but it seems completely impossible (for governments, or anyone) to convince people en masse to put up with seemingly much milder forms of deprivation (like less luxurious lifestyles) in order to stave off collapse (and famine/death and eventually war leading to more famine, death, etc). ?

Me: SH2, The State profits from the war racket (and all the other growth rackets) but not economic contraction. They have no interest in convincing the masses to live more ‘sustainably’ since that would kill their golden geese.

SH2: Steve Bull, Agreed, but I think it must go deeper than that. Do soldiers signing up (not counting conscripts) not have any idea of what war is like? Assuming they do, why does the motive of sacrifice for the good of their society/country not apply in anywhere near the same level of commitment to non-war actions?

Me: SH2, It’s obviously very complex but perhaps part of it is the State’s ability to leverage our innate tribal instincts (i.e., sense of patriotism) and ramping up of the ‘othering’ that goes hand-in-hand with that, which influences a sense of ‘sacrifice for God and country’ that gets most to support war and the atrocities of it. When times are ‘tough’ there’s always some ‘other’ that can be dragged out to blame for things and our in-group versus out-group instincts drown out the critical aspects of such manipulations.

As for ‘sacrificing’ for the planet’s health and our long-term survival, these are minimised via the mainstream narratives about human ingenuity and technology being capable of countering such degradation, you know — we can ‘science’ our way out of any ‘problems’.

The forces of propaganda/marketing by the ruling elite are significant and impactful. They profit from war and from continued economic growth. They have zero interest in curtailing either of these insane and destructive pursuits and perhaps even less concern for our ecological systems — greenwashing everything to give the appearance of concern.

The ‘average’ person’s tendency to defer to authority/expertise leaves most following whatever trajectory a society’s ‘rulers’ set, and for the 10,000+ years of complex societies, these ‘influencers’ have prioritised that which sustains their revenue streams…war and expansion.

And to minimise the cognitive dissonance of the significant machinations and manipulations we are constantly exposed to, most go along to get along and parrot back the stories and help to cheerlead us over the impending cliff…

PW: Steve Bull, Very well stated Steve. I copied two sentences because of the clarity and preciseness of the logic. ……you know — we can ‘science’ our way out of any ‘problems.

PW: SH2, Part of it is the play on their testosterone, their need to be a hero outweighs many other considerations. I think that, yeah, they don’t know what they are doing.

PW: One play of the recruiters ‘they can sign up and join with their friends, they can all serve in the same unit. Well, no, as soon as they join they are split up with some never seeing their friends again. I watched one video of recruiters trying to sign some guys up and implying they could be like their favorite musical artist who had served in the military. They could join the musical military band like he did. The recruiters will lie about anything to get the signature on the line.

LM: SH, I’ve come across the same as this. Maybe it’s their fight mechanism in their brain. I suppose if you don’t know how to mitigate it with nature and low fuel consumption, you use the tools you think you have, even if you don’t really understand those tools. It’s laziness, ignorance and fear. Problem is, those responses adversely impact my daughters and their futures, along with all other children’s futures. So what are we to do? The only two ways to mitigate all this, infiltrate the political system or revolt against the existing system.

We don’t seem to be able to get past the leaders and elite. The ones that openly advertise that going back to a low fuel economy would take us back to the dark ages. Well yeah, maybe we’d have to go to bed the same time as birds mostly because of low fuel, there’s nothing dark about that, other than the dark night!

So so distant from nature. Crazy

Second, is this question/statement posed in the Degrowth Group I am a member of. I include it as it relates to issues raised above:

PJ: Do you think the worlds ‘elite’ might view climate change as being caused by having far too many slaves consuming ‘their’ planet’s resources? ( It seems strange how they really seem to be promoting world war three rather than attempting to promote peace) I bet most of them have their own nuclear bunkers. Do any of the worlds ‘leaders’ and elites actually see themselves as being ‘enemies’ or is it something they like to pretend to the people? To maintain their ‘system’ and their positions? They certainly like to keep telling us how other countries and people are our ‘enemies’.

Me: I don’t pretend to know what our ‘elite’ think or believe. I can only guess based upon some statements, their behaviours, and pre/historical evidence as to what others in their place seem to have done.

They don’t seem to agree on much and oftentimes disagree vehemently on things. This often makes them more concerned with their in-group and how to manipulate events amongst that restricted population as opposed to the masses. This is perhaps especially so across borders, and particularly with respect to regions rich in resources (mineral, labour, and capital).

They don’t appear to be overly concerned with the symptoms of ecological overshoot (anthropogenic climate impacts being one) except to leverage them in expanding their revenue streams and societal control mechanisms.

They appear to believe in the magical thinking weaved by ‘free’ market economists and infinite substitutability for declining resources, and that technology and human ingenuity can solve any pressing issue.

They do not appear to give two shits for the unwashed masses except as tax donkeys and labourers, but do attempt to appease them somewhat with bread, circuses, and soothing narratives (despite having the various protective services of private and public police/security/military, they do still fear reprisals from possible revolution by the masses — thus increasing mass surveillance and narrative management).

Perhaps they do fear a nuclear exchange, but many certainly (at least amongst the higher ups of the political and military classes, and possibly some other very influential individuals) have access to safe spaces where they believe they could avoid the worst of such an outcome.

But we need to also consider that war is a VERY profitable racket as Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler reminded us. And THE primary motivation of these people probably since the beginning of complex societies 10,000+ years ago has been control and expansion of the wealth-generation/-extraction systems that provide their revenue streams and thus positions of power and prestige.

Again and again throughout human pre/history our ruling elite have sacrificed their citizens and the environment to meet this important motivation. I see little evidence that our current iteration of elite is any different than the many that have preceded them and expedited their society’s collapse, especially through overreach in many areas.

And when haven’t the weapons of the day ever sat idle once things have gone sideways?

Homo sapiens are very intelligent story-telling apes, just not very wise.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XXIII–‘Clean Energy’ and the Stages of Grieving

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XXIII

Tulum, Mexico (1986) Photo by author

‘Clean Energy’ and the Stages of Grieving

Today’s thought was motivated by another Tyee article that carries on the notion of ‘clean energy’ and the ‘magical thinking’ needed to buy into such narratives.

As long as language is being manipulated (e.g., ‘clean energy’ is a gargantuan oxymoron), magical thinking employed (e.g., ‘green hydrogen’ or some iteration of it has been on the books for 2+ centuries and is still far, far away, if ever, given the physical and economic hurdles/roadblocks), and fundamental causes of our dilemmas conveniently ignored (e.g., our pursuit of the infinite growth chalice on a finite planet), the ‘solutions’ we so desperately seek will always elude us (if they even exist).

Despite relatively general recognition of humanity’s impending ‘challenges’, we continue to follow the ‘Business-As-Usual’ (BAU) scenario painted for us by Meadows et al. in their 1972 Limits to Growth. Our ‘leaders’ talk a good talk but the reality (given the obvious lack of ‘progress’ in mitigating our issues and their increasingly probable negative consequences) is that we have painted ourselves into a corner from which we apparently cannot extricate ourselves (except through some very convoluted narrative creations).

There is overwhelming and increasing evidence that there is a significant reckoning in terms of energy decline (and various other resources) in our future, regardless of our wishes, ingenuity, and technology. The complexities of our globalised, just-in-time, and highly resource-dependent industrialised societies are losing their support systems in terms of the resources they require. We have encountered significant diminishing returns on our investments and can no longer ‘afford’ them. All the talk of ‘solutions’ is, at this point, seemingly reflective of the first four stages of grief outlined by Kubler-Ross: denial, anger, bargaining, and depression.

We are very keen on avoiding the final acceptance stage. Instead, we listen and accept faulty narratives about how this will all work out just fine. We create and propagate misleading phrases like ‘clean energy’ and ‘net zero emissions’ which are primarily marketing slogans. We allow ourselves to believe in ‘promising’ technological ‘fixes’ that require us to ignore or dismiss the constraints and physical impossibilities that are involved. And perhaps the worst of all, we look the other way when our ‘leadership’ completely ‘jumps the shark’ and whispers in our ears that we indeed can pursue ‘sustainable growth’ (a phrase that totally twists the concept of sustainability and ignores the biophysical constraints of a finite planet) and live, for the most part, happily-ever-after.

Such a fairy tale ending is indeed possible, but only in our imaginations. The momentum of our complex systems and the reality of a finite world straining under the exploitation of cognitively ‘advanced’ walking-talking apes are taking us down a path that is best described by William Catton Jr. in Overshoot: a species that overshoots its environmental carrying capacity is destined to encounter a population ‘collapse’ and any response that increases the drawdown of the fundamental resources upon which the species is reliant only speeds up the process. And this seems very much to be exactly what we are doing as we ‘debate’ ways in which to sustain our living standards and most of our energy-reliant and -intensive sociocultural practices.

Our best option may be to, in the words of author and social commentator John Michael Greer, “Collapse Now and Avoid the Rush”. Degrowth is coming. We can have some say in how this occurs but the longer we delay (and we’re very, very good at delaying our encounters with ‘reality’), the less ‘control’ we will have in meeting the coming challenges.

My suggestion is to detach from the ‘Matrix’ as much as possible by relocalising production of necessary goods but particularly shelter needs and organic and regenerative food production, and ensure the procurement of potable water. The government/politicians/ruling elite are not coming to the rescue; that is not their primary concern despite everything they say. The way in which they have met these challenges (that have been known for a number of decades) is evidence of that. We have continued to follow the BAU path set out in 1972 and simply managed to put ourselves further and further behind the eight ball. It’s perhaps no exaggeration to suggest that the planet burns while our ‘leaders’ are fiddling. Rely on yourself, family, and like-minded community members; not some politician promising more of the same actions that brought us to where we are.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XVI–Finite Energy, Overconsumption, and Magical Thinking Through Denial

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XVI

May 24, 2021

Knossos, Greece (1993) Photo by author

Finite Energy, Overconsumption, and Magical Thinking Through Denial

Another quick thought on our impending energy cliff situation and comment on an article suggesting overconsumption is our greatest threat and that we can be happy without it.

This is an excellent article.

The threats humanity faces are never simple and always multifaceted and intertwined. Overconsumption by a relatively small percentage of our world’s population is certainly one of the contributing factors. As is the way we create and distribute ‘money’ and our sociopolitical systems, to mention just two.

Underpinning all of these complexities is energy and the one-time, finite cache of energy provided by fossil fuels has provided a boost to human exploitation of the planet unlike any other time in humanity’s 100,000+ years of existence. In the waning days of this phenomenal energy surplus (be it due to supply constraints because of diminishing returns or some recognition of the negative consequences of its use — which are many and go far beyond the production of greenhouse gases), scaling back ‘advanced’ economies’ overconsumption tendencies could help forestall the energy decline we have begun to experience. It is unlikely, however, to prevent it — I would argue it is mostly magical thinking to hold on to the idea that some ‘clean’, ‘renewable’, and ‘sustainable’ energy source will suddenly appear and save us; a ‘solution’ that would not in any way address the mountain of other dilemmas we face, such as lack of arable lands and fertile soils, biodiversity loss, the negative repercussions of our past several centuries of expansion and exploitation, and numerous other biophysical limits imposed by a finite planet.

In fact, I would argue there are many reasons a pullback in our consumer-(profit-)driven societies is unlikely to happen, not least of which is the ruling class’s motivation to expand/control the wealth-generating systems that provide their revenue stream and the societal repercussions that always seem to arise when a people’s living standards (expectations? entitlements?) are threatened.

Another, and perhaps the most significant, roadblock to ‘righting’ our path is the somewhat dominant narrative that alternative energy sources (that many erroneously label ‘green’ and ‘clean’; and are used as supportive fodder by the ruling class to justify ‘sustainable’ growth — a perverse oxymoron if ever there was one and truly more marketing sloganeering than a reflection of reality) can be mostly easily transitioned to in order to continue ‘fuelling’ advanced economies very energy-intensive lifestyles. As long as the illusion persists that our current ways of living (and I’m speaking of ‘advanced’ economic societies) can in any way be ‘sustained’, we will travel towards a collapse/decline which can neither be reversed nor managed in an equitable or relatively-non-catastrophic way (‘catastrophic’ for advanced economies, not so much for economies that don’t have the same expectations and/or are more self-sufficient, and for much of the rest of the ‘natural’ world).

This is the way things go for a species that has overshot the natural carrying capacity of its environment. Humanity has the unique abilities to be aware of and possibly mitigate the fall that accompanies this biological phenomenon but I am doubtful we will use our ‘ingenuity’ to do anything but take the easier and seemingly less painful path of attempting to maintain our current tendencies (we are, after all, genetically predisposed to seek pleasure and avoid pain, even if the pain experienced now were to be significantly less than that that is to arise somewhat later in time). We will continue to use all the cognitive distortions we are prone to to propagate and hold on to comforting narratives that avoid the inconvenient ‘facts’.

Of course, denial is the first stage of grief and often, if not always, accompanies a significant loss. We, however, need the majority of people to move directly to the final stage of grief that is acceptance and as I have often argued on these pages recognise (and posthaste given the speed with which exponential growth always overwhelms a system) that the best way to mitigate our impending energy descent (and that of other physical resources) is to pursue degrowth strategies. The conversation on how to do this equitably and wisely is long, long overdue and the longer we avoid it, the more precipitous will be our ‘fall’.

In fact, it may actually be too late as some suggest and all the arguments and competing narratives are just ‘academic’ at this point — we would only truly know in hindsight. Perhaps the best one can do is to try and make one’s household and local community as resilient and self-sufficient as possible. It is sometimes wise to plan for the worst and hope for the best; although hope is not really a strategy and the planning/action part is what’s really important. Yes, stop consuming as much and change your expectations but also be prepared for a future of less and not one of perpetual growth and prosperity as our ruling class pushes (what politician has not promised ‘more’ to garner support? as the article highlights). ‘Normal’ is what we make it, not what we are told by others — especially those who seek to ‘profit’ from us. It is going to take a massive paradigm shift for us to weather the impending energy cliff and we are quickly losing time to prepare, both physically and psychologically.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XX–Climate Emergency Action Plan: Electrification and Magical Thinking

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XX
June 9, 2021
Pompeii, Italy (1993) Photo by author

Climate Emergency Action Plan: Electrification and Magical Thinking

Today’s contemplation is once again generated by way of an article from the online media site The Tyee. It’s topic is the city of Vancouver’s (British Columbia, Canada) attempts to require ‘electrification’ of all new buildings as part of their Climate Emergency Action Plan and the pushback by the Canadian Institute of Plumbing and Heating.

My first comment below was to bring to the surface the Overton Window that most media articles tend to display when discussing climate change actions and associated issues, particularly that it is only via ‘electrification’ of our society that we can adequately sustain our complexities and wean ourselves from the energy provided by fossil fuels; and thus ‘save our planet’.

The comment that follows is in response to another who responded to my comment with the tendency of some to buy into false (magical?) ‘solutions’. We tend to do this for any number of reasons, most (all?) of which are bio-psychological in nature.

The Overton Window established around policies/actions to address our ecological/environmental dilemmas is on full display here.

Want to reduce our impact on the planet? Stop adding to the problem that is the fundamental one: growth. None of the growth we continue to pursue (i.e., economic, population, etc.) is ‘Net Zero’ even if its needs are all ‘electrified’. ‘Electrification’ still requires ecologically-destructive sources to supply the energy; the notion that it is in any way ‘Net Zero’ is a comforting narrative that helps reduce the cognitive dissonance created when conflicting beliefs exist (e.g., growth can continue with little impact on the planet if we just ‘electrify’ it verses we live on a finite planet with hard biophysical limits that we have overshot in many cases).

The end of the fossil fuel age appears to be approaching and we need to acknowledge that the coming decline in the cheap and powerful energy it has provided will send our world (and most? all?) of our assumptions about modern, complex societies sideways in mostly unexpected ways. And this energy cliff we are beginning to experience is not because of our choosing to abandon fossil fuels (that is just the mainstream/dominant narrative being weaved); it’s because they are a finite resource that has encountered diminishing returns for some decades now and can no longer be economically accessed — to say little about the negative ecological impacts their use (and more recently, retrieval) have.

We can continue to weave comforting narratives such as ‘it’s just a matter of transitioning to a new, clean/green energy source and all will be well’, or we can confront the coming energy cliff and its significant knock-on effects (e.g., resource shortages, long-distance supply chain breakdowns, economic disruptions via bankruptcies/infinite currency devaluation-via fiat money ‘printing’, etc.) and attempt to build local/community resilience and self-sufficiency with our remaining (and finite) energy and material resources.

Which path is chosen (or some iteration of it) will impact how well a region/community fares as our energy-intensive living standards hit the wall that appears to be fast approaching.

I truly do believe many people are susceptible to/persuaded by misleading stories/narratives for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the most prominent of those being the deference to authorities/experts that we tend to display (think Stanley Milgram’s electric shock experiments). We tend to have trust/faith in particular people/professions and the marketers/propagandists (aka snake oil salesmen) are quite aware of this. So, a handful of academics/politicians/‘experts’ come out and declare ‘electrification’ of everything will lead us to the promised land…and here we are, only discussing the more comforting (and misleading/false) ‘solution’ and completely ignoring a more painful one that may be much more realistic in nature.

We are also genetically predisposed to avoid pain and seek pleasure, so a story of hope that can delay or bypass possible unpleasant consequences is much more easily believed and clung to than one that portends discomfort and difficulty. And one of the primary ways we reduce the psychological pain created by conflicting belief systems (that I’ve repeatedly emphasised) is to dismiss/deny/ignore the more painful one, such as having to forfeit comfortable living standards/expectations.

Another confounding factor in all this is the grieving process that people oftentimes go through when realising a significant loss (i.e., the lifestyle you ordered/expected is out of stock). Kubler-Ross’s original stages of grief is a great checklist for how many of us confront such loss. Denial (where the loss is imagined to not exist — many people are in this stage); anger (a lot of blame put on ‘others’ here); bargaining (when we begin creating ‘if only’ narratives — I would argue those in this stage become especially susceptible to the snake oil salesmen); depression; and acceptance. It is likely that until most of us are in the final acceptance stage will we be able to reach consensus on how best to confront the existential dilemmas we have created for ourselves and this planet.

Say M for Magic!

Simon Sinek, Underpants Gnomes and the Energy Transition

Photo by israel palacio on Unsplash

One of the goals of this blog — beyond making an attempt at giving a technical explanation on how this iteration of a technological civilization works, and why it is inherently unsustainable — is to explore the thought patterns we humans apply when confronted with such a predicament. We have discussed the many aspects of human reactions like denial, thinking in false dichotomies as well as our two modes of operation (complacency and panic) earlier. Now, I would like to shed some light on a missing link (or rather: a black hole) in our thought processes when thinking about “solutions” to the “problems” we face. Warning, what follows turned out to be a tad bit more sardonic than I initially intended, so as usual: proceed with care.

Asthe somewhat (OK, brutally) over-hyped management guru Simon Sinek wrote in his book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action:

“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe”

What he meant by that, is that in order to sell a product (or in idea for that matter) and make a big bang on the market you have to have a strong sense of vision and mission as to why you are selling what you are selling. There has to be an emotional charge catching your audience’s attention, compelling them to be part of your great story.

In order to do that, you must follow Sinek’s Golden Circle theory and answer three simple questions, starting with Why. Why do you do what you do? Be careful though, the answer must give a succinct description of the ultimate purpose of your business…

…click on the above link to read the rest…

On Magical Thinking

Image credit: Patrick Hendry via Unsplash

My last article on the future of electricity has received quite a few critical comments both from proponents of nuclear as well as solar energy, accusing me with ‘denigrating’ their favored solution. The aim of this is project, the Honest Sorcerer however, was not — and never will be — to focus on a narrow set of magic bullet ‘solutions’, intended to solve a specific issue, while presuming that the rest will be taken care of automatically.

There are a few things, however, which must be understood before we can move on. If you are not on board with the following, no problem, give yourself a break and let them sink in, in their own pace.

  1. This civilization is just as unsustainable as the hundreds of others it now follows into the dustbin of history. High tech modernity exemplified by, but certainly not limited to, the Western states is way past redemption: there are way too many trends working against it. The end of a civilization is a classic example of a predicament becoming fulfilled: it happens no matter what you do and there are no ways to stop it. People can still do a lot to adapt to the situation as it evolves and ease the passing of an old system though; making its death less painful then it otherwise would be, and saving at least some of the cultural achievements from perishing.
  2. It follows that there is no such thing as individuals redeeming their own civilization, especially this one. Unlike its predecessors, this civilization has went global…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Another extraordinary delusion: Mining helium from the Moon

Another extraordinary delusion: Mining helium from the Moon

Asia Times tells us that there is a “secret mining war” taking place in space over helium-3, a version of helium which is surprisingly abundant on the Moon. Helium-3 is an isotope of helium with two protons and one neutron. The far more prevalent arrangement is helium-4, two protons and two neutrons.

(For those only vaguely familiar with the periodic table, helium is an element which therefore cannot be manufactured from other other elements and must be harvested from nature.*)

The fascination with helium-3 is as a fuel for fusion reactors. This fuel, it turns out, would produce absolutely no radioactive waste—unlike hydrogen-fueled fusion reactors which produce pesky neutrons that bombard components of the reactor and render them radioactive.

So, let’s get this straight. There is supposedly a “secret mining war” between China, the United States and possibly Russia over potential resources on the Moon, resources that might provide very clean fuel for fusion reactors of which there are zero of the commercial variety. And, the number of commercial fusion reactors is likely to stay at zero until at least mid-century. And, there is no assurance that the type of reactor that could use helium-3—which would require much higher temperatures than the hydrogen-fueled ones being contemplated now—will be commercially available any time soon after mid-century.

Some of the challenges of building such a helium-3 friendly reactor are detailed in this piece. Keep in mind that hydrogen is wildly abundant on the Earth in the form of water. Even the far scarcer isotope of hydrogen, deuterium—which is used in current fusion experiments—is much easier to obtain than helium-3 on the Moon and is commercially available today.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The “New Energy Economy”: An Exercise in Magical Thinking


A movement has been growing for decades to replace hydrocarbons, which collectively supply 84% of the world’s energy. It began with the fear that we were running out of oil. That fear has since migrated to the belief that, because of climate change and other environmental concerns, society can no longer tolerate burning oil, natural gas, and coal—all of which have turned out to be abundant.

So far, wind, solar, and batteries—the favored alternatives to hydrocarbons—provide about 2% of the world’s energy and 3% of America’s. Nonetheless, a bold new claim has gained popularity: that we’re on the cusp of a tech-driven energy revolution that not only can, but inevitably will, rapidly replace all hydrocarbons.

This “new energy economy” rests on the belief—a centerpiece of the Green New Deal and other similar proposals both here and in Europe—that the technologies of wind and solar power and battery storage are undergoing the kind of disruption experienced in computing and communications, dramatically lowering costs and increasing efficiency. But this core analogy glosses over profound differences, grounded in physics, between systems that produce energy and those that produce information.

In the world of people, cars, planes, and factories, increases in consumption, speed, or carrying capacity cause hardware to expand, not shrink. The energy needed to move a ton of people, heat a ton of steel or silicon, or grow a ton of food is determined by properties of nature whose boundaries are set by laws of gravity, inertia, friction, mass, and thermodynamics—not clever software.

This paper highlights the physics of energy to illustrate why there is no possibility that the world is undergoing—or can undergo—a near-term transition to a “new energy economy.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Fantasies, Myths, and Fairy Tales, Part Two

Fantasies, Myths, and Fairy Tales, Part Two

 This facade of the main street in Thurmond, West Virginia, looks impressive but hides the fact
that this is a ghost town. No businesses actually exist in these buildings today and the entire town only has 4 or 5 residents today. More info can be obtained here and here.
*     *     *

One of the pernicious effects of the mainstream media regarding climate change and indeed, all the other predicaments under the banner of ecological overshoot, is the sheer level of denial presented. This can easily be detected in many articles about different predicaments such as climate change and I found one in particular (out of thousands; this is just one of the most recent ones) that brings this phenomenon into focus, quote:

Climate experts warn that, without urgent action, climate change will continue to cause an increase in the intensity of extreme rainfall that can lead to severe flooding.

An international research team have concluded that increases in  and associated flooding are projected to continue as  continue to rise. Efforts to limit warming to +1.5C will help limit changes in extreme rainfall, though some societal adaptations will still be required.

This is laughable to say the least. +1.5C will be reached most likely within the next five years regardless of what actions are taken at this point outside of a nuclear winter (a distinct possibility, as horrid as it is). Some experts have claimed that limiting climate change to +1.5C is now impossible and I agree. While there are some who still think it is possible to limit global temperatures to +1.5C, these appear to discount the reality of how society works, oceanic thermal inertia, and civilizational inertia. This civilizational inertia is extremely important to understand, as this prevents most attempts at reducing emissions from succeeding at accomplishing much if anything

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Yet Another Year of Magical Thinking

A peculiar feature of the human condition is that a society in distress will call forth intellectual witch-doctors to put on a colorful show that distracts the supposedly thinking class from the insoluble quandaries that portend serious trouble ahead. This feature is on display these days in the person of freelance space pioneer Elon Musk. He intends to establish a human colony on Mars of one million people by 2040.

Musk, who is also developer of the Tesla line of electric cars and businesses that make solar-electric gear and batteries, has tested a series of space vehicles, most recently last week’s celebrated launch of his Falcon Heavy Rocket, said to be the most powerful in the world. It is just the precursor of the soon-to-come colossus Musk calls the BFR (“Big Fucking Rocket”) that will convey as many as 200 people at a time to their new home on the Red Planet.

NPR reporter Ari Shapiro was rhapsodizing about this “Space-X” project last week on the airwaves, lending it the media stamp-of-approval. And since NPR is a major news source for the US thinking class especially, you can be sure this meme of colonizing Mars is now embedded in the brains of the Pareto distribution (“the law of the vital few”) who affect to be thought leaders in this land.

There’s an old gag about the space race of yore that goes something like this (trigger warning to the ethnically hyper-sensitive):

The UN convenes a General Assembly session on space travel. The ambassadors of various nations are asked to talk about their space projects. The Russians and the Americans tick off their prior accomplishments and announce plans to explore the planets. Finally, the ambassador from Poland takes his turn at the rostrum.

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Expediency and Magical Thinking

Earth’s Economy Glorifies Waste, Exploitation, Debt, Expediency and Magical Thinking

Humanity appears to default to magical thinking when faced with untenable situations that demand systemic change.
How would extraterrestrial anthropologists characterize Earth’s dominant socio-economic system? It’s not difficult to imagine their dismaying report:
“Earth’s economy glorifies waste. Its economists rejoice when a product is disposed as waste and replaced with a new product. This waste is perversely labeled ‘growth.’
Aimless wandering that consumes fossil fuels is likewise rejoiced as ‘growth.’
The stripping of the planet’s oceans for a few favored species of edible fish is also considered ‘growth’ as the process of destroying the ocean ecosystem generates sales of the desired seafood.
Even more perversely, the resulting shortages are also causes of rejoicing by the planet’s elites, as their ability to purchase the now-scarce resources boosts their social status and grandiose sense of self-worth.
This glorification of waste is the same dynamic that destroyed the civilization on Zork.
Earth’s economy also glorifies exploitation, as this maximizes profits, which appears to be the planetary equivalent of a secular religion that everyone believes as a Natural Law.
Thus slavery and monopoly are highly valued as the most reliable sources of profits. If ethical concerns limit the actual ownership of humans, Earth’s economy incentivizes feudal arrangements that share characteristics of servitude and bondage. In the current era, the favored mechanisms are over-indebtedness (debt-serfdom) and taxation by the state, which extracts approximately 40% of all labor via threat of imprisonment.
Earth’s elites exhibit a pathological preference for micro-managing the commoners via criminalizing much of everyday life and imposing extremely harsh punishments for any dissent or resistance to elite domination.

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Greece, Democracy and Magical Thinking

Greece, Democracy and Magical Thinking

Regardless of what the Greek people choose, at least the choice will be theirs, along with the consequences.

What is representative democracy but organized bribery on a mass scale?Politicians seeking control of the spigots of state wealth and power promise endless swag to voters. Those who promise the most swag and do so with the most inspirational Soaring Rhetoric ™ win elections and gain control of the spigots of state wealth and power.

What are promises of endless swag but lies cloaked in magical thinking? The magical thinking has many manifestations: the aptly named Laffer Curve, used to justify cutting taxes to the already-wealthy; entry into the Eurozone, a magical land of unicorns and endless prosperity, based not on hard work and the creation of value, but on membership alone; the blowing of serial asset bubbles in real estate and stocks (works equally well in Asia and the West), and various iterations of Manifest Destiny: it’s our right to grow rich, preferably on the labor and resources of others.

Representative democracy offers choices with no consequences: no matter which politico and party is elected, the promises of endless swag remain unchanged.

In contrast, direct democracy offers choices with consequences: voters make a choice of policies that, whether intended or not, have consequences.

This forces voters to actually ponder consequences rather than indulge politico promises of endless swag in return for supporting a corrupt, predatory, parasitic status quo that benefits the few at the expense of the many.

Even direct democracy is easily corrupted by magical thinking. The actual consequences may be ignored in favor of magical-thinking dreams of only good consequences and no trade-offs or sacrifices, all powered by the magic of debt.

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The Burden of Denial

The Burden of Denial

It occurred to me the other day that quite a few of the odder features of contemporary American culture make perfect sense if you assume that everybody knows exactly what’s wrong and what’s coming as our society rushes, pedal to the metal, toward its face-first collision with the brick wall of the future. It’s not that they don’t get it; they get it all too clearly, and they just wish that those of us on the fringes would quit reminding them of the imminent impact, so they can spend whatever time they’ve got left in as close to a state of blissful indifference as they can possibly manage.
I grant that this realization probably had a lot to do with the context in which it came to me. I was sitting in a restaurant, as it happens, with a vanload of fellow Freemasons.  We’d carpooled down to Baltimore, some of us to receive one of the higher degrees of Masonry and the rest to help with the ritual work, and we stopped for dinner on the way back home. I’ll spare you the name of the place we went; it was one of those currently fashionable beer-and-burger joints where the waitresses have all been outfitted with skirts almost long enough to cover their underwear, bare midriffs, and the sort of push-up bras that made them look uncomfortably like inflatable dolls—an impression that their too obviously scripted jiggle-and-smile routines did nothing to dispell.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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