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Energy Wars | Art Berman

Energy Wars | Art Berman

We have to save ourselves from ourselves

Whoever controls the energy supply controls the new world order.

Russia and China are deepening their relationship, Western allies in the Middle East are joining the fossil-fuelled BRICS alliance spanning the globe, and the Wagner group is loosening Europe’s grip of Africa. The tectonic plates of geopolitics are shifting along new fault lines as rising powers focus on securing resources while the old Empire in the West pretends it can decouple economies and energy. The world is at war, but only one side is being honest about what for.

Acclaimed energy expert Art Berman says this is the culmination of millennia of human fallibility. This is a conversation that takes us from 3000 BCE and the discovery of what he calls the most disruptive technology humans ever had right up to today and the energy wars blooming around the world. We discuss our psychological disposition to immaturity, our cognitive shortcomings when examining complexity, the secrets of holy texts and even morality. Art explains how energy is reshaping geopolitical alliances, which leaders understand the reality of our situation, and why technology cannot solve our problems.


The Holy Trinity

The Holy Trinity

Getting a grip on energy, materials and civilisation

I like trying to get to the internal organs of the matter. Not just the heart, but also the brain, the kidneys, the stomach, the lungs, the skeleton. My conversation with Tim Garrett last week did just that, centring the matter of the universe alongside energy and human civilisation. This holy trinity speaks to the bigger picture, the holistic system, the body, mind and soul of reality and of the crisis. Perhaps we should refer to it as the wholy trinity.

Language is one of the ways I get to the heart, finding clues in our linguistics which reveal fundamental truths about the world. Speaking to physicists is another, and it amazes me that those in the know about the laws of the universe are not questioned more often about how to build functioning societies, or maybe what’s wrong with our own. Our economies cannot outsmart the laws of physics, no matter the linguistic tricks we pull (hello Net Zero carbon accounting). To me, physics gets to the skin of the matter, the ultimate boundaries we come up against in this particular universe. Perhaps it also gets to the stomach, for the laws of thermodynamics say a lot about our economic appetite.

Simply: The more energy available to a thing, the more it grows. And, for that thing to maintain itself, it needs an energy surplus because it is constantly expending energy in its search for and consumption of energy. Things grow into their energy surplus, and the more energy available, the more the thing will grow, and the bigger the appetite will become: things grow in order to find more resources in order to maintain themselves.

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

The Thermodynamics of Degrowth | Tim Garrett

Collapse and Recovery

What’s the relationship between our energy consumption, our material footprint and our economies?

Tim Garrett and I come to refer to these as “the holy trinity”. Tim is a Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Utah, and over two years ago, he joined me to discuss the thermodynamics of collapse, where he explained his research into the behaviour of snowflakes and how you could extrapolate the behaviour of economies and civilization using the laws of thermodynamics. He’s back on the show to explain how we use our energy, the necessity of a surplus of energy and how all of this relates to a society’s growth and health.

In this conversation we discuss questions like: Will renewables facilitate an increased consumption of fossil fuels? Can we reduce inequality by reducing energy consumption? How can we organise a wave-like civilisation, which grows and decays within safe boundaries? Can we decline in order to recover before crashing completely?

Even The Millionaires Are Fed Up

Even The Millionaires Are Fed Up

How to speak to a hostile crowd

Some weeks ago, I was sitting on stage with an economist from the World Trade Organisation and a banker from UBS. We were opening a small, one-day conference for the private aviation industry, and I had been invited to challenge the prevailing macro-economic forecast. I had been surprised to receive the invitation, to say the least, and asked the woman organising the event if she was sure she wanted me there. She laughed: “Hell yeah!” So off I went to the Swiss Alps—by train, of course—to calmly and assuredly explain to a hostile audience that the excellent economic forecast provided was awfully narrow in scope when you factor in resource scarcity, geopolitical instability, nuclear war, climate tipping points and the illusion of material decoupling. In sum, we’re heading for economic collapse by 2050, I said.

The banker disagreed. I told him perhaps he should look at the data before forming an opinion. He recoiled as if I had slapped him, and I wondered how often he is around people who disagree with him. The economist from the WTO offered a middle ground, focusing on the necessity of economic development, and using it as a reason to warn against the injustice of degrowth. I smiled wanly and gave the correct definition of degrowth as a redistribution mechanism to develop the majority world whilst reducing the output of the global north.

Then someone from the audience, fed up with my negative outlook, shouted out that he didn’t necessarily disagree with everything I was saying but he wanted solutions! He’s a capitalist, for god’s sake! What, did I just want to throw away capitalism?

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

The Politics of Food | Chris Smaje

Lab-grown food vs small farms

What’s the future of food?

Last year, two of my former podcast guests had a long and very public disagreement about the politics of food, locking horns over the utility of farming in a densely-populated world. Activist and writer George Monbiot has written extensively about lab-grown food and the need to revolutionise our food systems with technology so that we can better feed everyone. Farmer and academic Chris Smaje has argued that farming is a critical component of community autonomy, and wrote a book in response to George’s own, Regenesiscriticising the vision as “eco-modernist”. George hit back that Chris’ proposal is a “cruel fantasy”.

I watched this unfold online, worried to see two experts disagree so deeply on something fundamental to how we organise society, and invited Chris back to talk about this second book, Saying No To A Farm-Free Future. Chris explains how our food production systems are emblematic of our crisis of relationship to the earth. He argues that de-materialising our food supply plays into the colonial history of uprooting people from the land and denigrating agriculture. This leads us to discuss land, language, and culture, decentralising power, and the political binaries that could be dissolved by grounding our thinking in the land.

Correction: The previous version of this interview stated that the debate between George Monbiot and Chris Smaje was around lab grown meat instead of lab grown food.

…click on the above link to listen to the interview…

Designing Collective Security | Olivia Lazard

Designing Collective Security | Olivia Lazard

Navigating existential crisis in a time of political and social upheaval

We’re breaking all kinds of records at the moment: cities are boiling at 62C, ocean temperatures are literally off the charts, and governments have increased the global defence budget to an alarming $2440 billion.

War costs life, and not just human life. The environmental impacts of war are colossal, with one study already showing that the first few months of Israel’s assault on Gaza emitted more carbon dioxide than 20 climate-vulnerable nations do in one year. Our ecosystems are at their breaking point, with six of nine planetary boundaries crossed. We need global collaboration to commit the huge systems overhaul necessary to survive the planetary crises and mitigate the catastrophic decisions of the last centuries.

Olivia Lazard, environmental peacemaker and research fellow at Carnegie Europe, joins me to discuss just how complex that task is, detailing the five steps of the Anthropocene and how violence increases at each step. We discuss these legacy systems of extraction and violence and how they are embedded into decisions being made around A.I., creating security risks in a resource-scarce world. We also cover the dematerialisation of our economies, the myths that blind us to energy and materials, before discussing the balance of power tipping our planet and human systems further into crisis.

Don’t Talk To Me About Solutions

Don’t Talk To Me About Solutions

The System Itself is the Problem

It’s 2024 and I’m suspicious of “solutions”. Solutions to what, exactly? The excess greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that have already seen us breach the 1.5 degree limit set by the Paris Agreement? The ocean acidification that’s bleaching corals en masse? The rampant deforestation and habitat destruction that’s seen half of the world’s wilderness turned into farmland? How about the economic system with its limited prescription of value that converts what is priceless into profit? The political gridlock on climate thanks to our addiction to fossil fuels? The record-breaking profits of those energy companies with plans to double global extraction? Or the debt bondage that keeps the global south trapped in poverty? The political hierarchy that means the world’s most war-mongering country calls the shots? How about resource scarcity for an energy transition? How about water shortages? Genocide?

There’s no magic bullet for this level of complexity. What is clear—more and more as the months go on and climate goals, peace goals and equity goals are sacrificed in the name of imperialism—we need systems revolution, not systems reform. The world is looking at food shortages, droughts, a financial crisis, world war three and worsening impacts of the climate and biodiversity crisis, not to mention the likelihood of an authoritarian elected to the most powerful position in the world. This is an unprecedented eco-crisis. We need to change how we organise. And we need to organise.

I like “eco”: it comes from the Ancient Greek “οἶκος”, (pronounced eek-os) meaning household, which is the root of ecosystem, ecology, ecophilosophy etc etc. We consider “eco” to signify the environment, but what it reveals is that the environment is our home; the wide-scale wilderness of the planet itself is our home; our household, if we can step up to the role of stewards…

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

State Violence Is The Norm

State Violence Is The Norm

Rewilding is the solution

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about centralisation as a violent force. In short: state violence. It’s hard not to think about at the moment, given Israel’s genocide of the Palestinian people, backed by America’s imperialist agenda who, along with their British allies, have been dropping bombs on Yemen because the Houthis dared destabilise shipping in the red sea as protest against genocide. It’s hard not to think about state violence when one state is taken to international court by another who knows first hand the bloody scars of apartheid only for that genocidal state to decry the court as discriminating against them—only to launch a series of attacks on neighbouring countries. It’s hard not to think about state violence when one of those countries responds in violence.

It’s hard not to think about state violence when environmental defenders are being killed, locked up and branded ‘terrorists’ in an obvious move to mobilise intensifying criminalisation of civil protest. It’s hard not to think about state violence when children are going hungry in wealthy nations, energy companies are raking in mind-boggling, record-breaking profits at the expense of a stable society, and police are murdering women.

These are particularly awful examples, but state violence is the norm. In his phenomenal essay on legal interpretation, Violence and the WordRobert Cover astutely pointed out the law’s fundamental violence as “commitments that place bodies on the line.” The state only upholds its alleged order with a willingness to commit violence against its civilians—to lock them up. Of course, all this is done in the name of protecting citizens, supposedly (although a cursory exploration of past legal cases shows the courts’ main priority has long been the protection of private property)…

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

Life After Fossil Fuels | Alice Friedemann

Life After Fossil Fuels | Alice Friedemann

And why the climate change conversation isn’t helping

A post-carbon world could be our opportunity to so better—and make the difficult transition much harder to swallow.

That’s the message of Alice Friedemann on this week’s episode, author of When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation. The transition is coming, perhaps collapse is coming, and if the world as we know it is going to change we might as well make the most of it. She worries we won’t be given the opportunity due to all the misinformation flying around, and gives a cutting analysis of how the climate change conversation is distracting from many other dangerous, concurrent such as biodiversity loss and water scarcity.

* * * * *

For Alice, the big problem is the energy crisis. She explains how oil prices can precipitate nation state collapse, with high oil prices driving 11 of the past 12 recessions.

This is a phenomenally interesting interview, which also manages to be a lot of fun, despite the topics! Listen here on catch it on on Apple or Spotify.

Visit Alice’s website Energy Skeptic and get your hands on a copy of When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation.

Seeing the Big Picture | Nate Hagens

Seeing the Big Picture | Nate Hagens

Understanding the critical connections between our values, our economy and our world

Welcome to the era of generalists, of the big picture thinkers who translate concepts into action. These are the people who join the dots to get a better sense of how our world fits together—and how we impact each other.


Nate Hagens is one of the most acclaimed big picture thinkers tackling the sustainability question. He joins me to explain that creating a sustainable future demands tackling social and economic inequalities, and ultimately creating a new system of values.

Listen here or catch it on Apple or Spotify.

Nate currently teaches a systems synthesis Honors seminar at the University of Minnesota ‘Reality 101 – A Survey of the Human Predicament’   Nate is on the Boards of Post Carbon Institute, Bottleneck Foundation, IIER and Institute for the Study of Energy and the Future.

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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