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The Cult of Civilization

The Cult of Civilization

From Pixabay/KELLEPICS

I recently watched a Netflix documentary series about fundamentalist Mormons, exposing along the way a number of beliefs that seem bizarre from the outside, but that are accepted as perfectly normal within their insular community. Though the term “cult” is not used in the series, it is hard not to see the sect in this light. It would be nearly impossible to convince any one of its members that they are deeply in error, in part because doing so threatens the salvation that has been dangled in front of them.  If they are pure enough in their faith, resisting external evils that try to knock them off the one true course, eternity is theirs. In today’s world, one need not look far to find other groups whose beliefs are at once bonkers and seemingly immune to attack.

Hearing the perspectives of ex-members of these cults never fails to be fascinating, providing a window into how they could have swallowed all the lies and goofy stories. Also important to know: it is possible to escape, and to suddenly see the magnitude of the deception. Once out, there’s no going back.

Cult beliefs look insane from the outside, so why don’t its adherents detect the lunacy? Why is it so hard to convince them of their folly? One possible answer—as a tangent—is that cults offer a deeply satisfying sense of identity, belonging, and (seemingly) unconditional acceptance/support within its community that we have otherwise lost in today’s society, but that in times past were central offerings of tribal life to which humans are intimately adapted. It is remarkable how quickly tribal cohesion instincts of mutual help resurface as soon as core elements of civilization (provision of food, water, electricity, for instance) fail in a natural disaster. We’ve still got it, underneath the veneer.

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Death by Hockey Sticks

Death by Hockey Sticks

hockey sticks

Courtesy Pixabay (PhotoMIX-Company)

You may be familiar with the term “hockey stick curve,” used describe a trend that has been flat/stable for a very long time, but shoots up at the end of the series in dramatic fashion, resembling the shape of a hockey stick. Hockey can be a violent sport, and it’s easy to get hurt by even one well-aimed swing. Today’s world is being battered from all sides by countless hockey sticks. Mostly, they seem to be targeting Earth’s critters, who are getting bludgeoned unsparingly. But in the end, we’re only harming ourselves.

This post is structured as a gauntlet of hockey stick curves that may leave the reader feeling a bit bruised. Depending on what’s being plotted, many of the graphs shoot up like an exponential, but a few are careening downwards. A theme emerges: the “bads” go up, and the “goods” go down—and not by coincidence.

 

People and Money

We’ll start simply. Human population looks like a hockey stick curve. This is not a surprise to anyone. The fact is greeted with a range of reactions from joy to despair, but mostly simple acceptance. Whatever your disposition, here’s what it looks like.

Human Population

All the plots in this post will share the same time axis, from the year 1000 to 2200—even for those lacking information across the whole span. The point will be to emphasize the anomalous nature of recent history: what I call the fireworks show.   Maybe it would be more fair to use a 10,000 year span (civilization), or 200,000 for modern homo sapiens, or even 3 million years for the entire human saga.  On such scales, the present era loses its graceful curve and looks rather more like a sudden brick wall.

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Spot The Illusions We Tell Ourselves

Spot The Illusions We Tell Ourselves

Whitewater Falls, North Carolina

Recently there have been a rather large number of occurrences which shine a light on some positive progress being made on ecological overshoot. Unfortunately, many outlets and even scientists have made claims about so-called “solutions” which are anything but, and generally they’re simply not true.

One of the loudest occurrences has been the release of Don’t Look Up on Netflix, which has elicited lots of reviews and is reverberating far and wide within the climate change community. I say “climate change” community because even many longtime climate followers are still in the dark about ecological overshoot, the predicament CAUSING climate change. One review in particular is extremely accurate, this one from Tom Murphy. On most articles, I usually try to avoid reading the comments following said articles. However, Tom’s site generally has comments which actually elevate each article because they are often thoughtful rather than the depressing comments after most “regular” articles. This particular snippet of one caught my eye because of the relevance it has with so many comments I see routinely, quote:

When will “we” unite to solve “our” global problems? As much as each of us may wish otherwise, humanity is not a giant family. It is a large mass of clever primates who have evolved to cope with temporary resource surpluses followed inevitably by scarcity. After the feast always comes the killing famine, and we are built to compete in just such a world.

This does not foreclose united action against common threats, but when the chips are down and *somebody* must have less of a limiting resource, we will do everything in our earthly power to ensure that it’s not us.
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Caught Up in Complexity

Caught Up in Complexity

From analogicus, via Pixabay

Readers of this blog will know that I have come to some big-picture conclusions about success and failure that are unsettling. I don’t like them myself. Not only do they create an inner sadness about where I think the human endeavor is heading, but they result in a sort of isolation that I would rather not suffer—introvert though I am. Among other academics at my institution, it is rare for me to find kindred spirits, even among groups self-selected to care about environmental issues. Most don’t seem to see very far beyond climate change in the lineup of existential threats, increasingly focusing on inequities within the human population that stem from climate and environmental disturbances. I am glad that climate change awareness is high (a genuine threat), but even if climate change had never arisen, I think we would still be in grave trouble from the more fundamental flaws in our explosive approach to living on Earth.

This is a large part of the impetus behind PLAN, which I announced in the last post. Already, I am gratified that people joining the network from vastly different fields and experiences have formed similar conclusions at the highest level. So I’m not crazy, unless we all are. In any case, I am less lonely. [I will say that crazy is usually easy to spot in conversation: a little too insistent/enthusiastic/one-track. The PLAN folks feel really solid, broad, and even perhaps subdued to me: not the type you want to back away from at a party.]

But I still try to understand why so few of my colleagues have reached similar conclusions. The easy answer is that I’m just plain wrong…

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Bonus: Galactic-Scale Energy with Tom Murphy

Bonus: Galactic-Scale Energy with Tom Murphy

Take it from astrophysicist Tom Murphy. Sure, lightsabers, dilithium crystal warp drives, and Mars colonies are a lot of fun to consider. But a physics-based perspective on energy tells us that we need to accept the limits to growth, stop chasing  sci-fi fantasies, and get to work building a steady-state economy that works for people and the planet. Instead of focusing on growth, maybe we should focus on growing up.
…click on the above link to listen to the show…

Who is Professor Thomas W. Murphy, Jr. and What Does He Know About Energy and Resource Decline?

Who is Professor Thomas W. Murphy, Jr. and What Does He Know About Energy and Resource Decline?

I have mentioned Tom Murphy many times in this blog precisely because facts don’t lie. If anyone wants to truly know where we are as a species on this planet, Tom can definitely tell you. Don’t get me wrong, I can also tell you; but I’m not a physicist. Tom is one of the few individuals who has written a book about our predicaments and allowed free access to everyone.

Tom has done far more than that, however. He has a website which has been a staple within the energy community for many years. He talks about our situation in this video and surprisingly thought the same way I did for many years regarding our future. He thought that we would develop various “renewable” technologies and that our future would be shiny and “green” so that BAU could continue unabated. I actually think a very large portion of society thinks the same way, and it is because they simply do not understand the laws of physics, thermodynamics, biology, and chemistry and how they intersect with human psychology, and how society operates within the confines of the systems we are all embedded within which seriously limit how we deal with these predicaments COLLECTIVELY. 

It is very difficult for the average person to gain a holistic perspective of what we’re up against. The neat thing that Tom does is explain what IS and what IS NOT possible, based upon scientific FACTS. His website has absolutely FANTASTIC articles going into great detail about what are likely candidates to replace fossil fuels (SPOILER ALERT: No known energy source can even come close to replacing the energy density, portability, and flexibility in energy systems that fossil fuels provide AND…

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Credibility from Apparent Hypocrisy

Credibility from Apparent Hypocrisy

Flip the script! Image by Gerhard G. from Pixabay

Purveyors of unpopular messages are often scrutinized for any inconsistent, seemingly hypocritical behavior that might give lie to their preachings and be used to discredit the unwelcome perspective. A famous example is Al Gore’s heavy air travel schedule to spread the word and take action against climate change, resulting in an enormous CO2 footprint. If we all behaved that way, the very problem at hand would be substantially exacerbated.

Such accusations either knowingly or pathetically miss the obvious point that the net effect of Al Gore’s efforts may be positive owing to the simple idea of a lever: a little expenditure here can counteract vast expenditures elsewhere for an overall gain on the problem. For many, the glaring superficial contradiction is enough ammunition to discredit the entire enterprise.

But identifying possible hypocrisy in those who warn of future perils, as I have done, has a dark edge: if even those cognizant individuals cannot get away from behaviors they know to be damaging, doesn’t that only amplify the severity of the warning?

This is the part where I confess various behaviors that would seem to be inconsistent with my writings. It is true that my energy and resource footprints are far below the U.S. average—in electricity, methane, gasoline, food, and consumerism. I re-evaluated my footprint in comparison to average Americans in Chapter 20 of my textbook, confirming a factor-of-several reduction in most categories.

So I can perhaps justify some sense of credibility in putting my money where my mouth is. Or more accurately, I refrain from putting money places in accordance to what comes out of my mouth (and fingers). It can be hard to separate ecological responsibility from just being a cheapskate.

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COLLAPSE! — Think of collapse as a drastic and chaotic reduction in energy and resource use

COLLAPSE! — Think of collapse as a drastic and chaotic reduction in energy and resource use

“… my fundamentally conservative core requires a default position that collapse is the most likely outcome,” says physicist Tom Murphy. —

Tom Murphy

“The first thing I should say is that the word ‘collapse’ freaks me out. I don’t use it often, for fear of sounding like an unhinged alarmist. Surely, respectable scientists should want nothing to do with it…. What keeps pulling me back to it — despite my innate repulsion — is not only credible elements of risk that I will get to in this post, but also that I think it’s too important to tolerate our natural tendency to hide from the prospect. Ironically, doing so only raises the odds of that ill fate: mitigation requires direct acknowledgment. Failure to speak openly and honestly about the less-than-remote possibility of collapse is not in our best interest, ultimately. So let’s grit our teeth and confront the collapse monster. What conditions make it at once likely and off most people’s radars? It is a heavy lift for one blog post to do a complete job in motivating collapse as a realistic outcome of the human enterprise. Any one argument can be picked at, but the totality should be considered. This is a long post, so buckle up. For the purposes of this post, we can think of collapse as a drastic and probably chaotic reduction in energy and resource use per person, the result looking primitive by today’s standards.” —Tom Murphy, Do the Math

Tom Murphy is an associate professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego. Murphy’s keen interest in energy topics began with his teaching a course on energy and the environment for non-science majors at UCSD…

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To What End?

To What End?

Image by naturfreund_pics from Pixabay

Recent reflections on the long-term trajectory of the human enterprise have somewhat transformed the way I look at most activities. Specifically, I refer to the dual realizations that on 10,000 year timescales ultimate success is effectively synonymous with true sustainability, and that the human race stands in blatant breach of contract with evolution and ecosystem parameters—fueled by a mad grab of one-time finite resources. The net effect is that most human activities today promote ultimate failure rather than ultimate success.

As such, when evaluating a proposed or ongoing effort, I ask myself the question:

To what end?

This post will examine some of the activities of current society, and evaluate how much sense they make in the context of a post-party future.

I’ve had enough of the human tendency to “follow our noses” based on near-term advantages at the disastrous expense of long-term success. Humans have acquired the power to radically change the world. Great power should ideally be wielded only by those capable of great responsibility. But we cheated somehow, and grabbed power because we could, without first demonstrating responsibility. No higher or wiser authority was present to tell us not to.

The result is even worse than doing things willy-nilly, like an unconstrained firehose. Because even that firehose will sometimes by random chance throw water on the fire. Our actions are more systematically directed at accelerating destruction by eroding ecosystems that ultimately constitute our own life support on this planet.

A core problem is that most people lack the tools of math and science to inform thought, relying instead on history and experience as their bedrock. Even those adept at math and science generally have not directed their skills toward critical inspection of society’s prevailing narratives…

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Our rapid ascent in energy and resource use has distorted our view of “normal”

Our rapid ascent in energy and resource use has distorted our view of “normal”

The new reality warns we are on a collision course with Earth’s finite limits —

Tom Murphy

“The delirious ascent in energy and resource use witnessed over the past few centuries has been accomplished via the rapid, accelerating expenditure of a one-time inheritance of natural resources—a brief and singularly remarkable era in the long saga of human history. It has produced a dangerously distorted impression of what “normal” looks like on this planet. …Thus far, heeding physical boundaries has not been necessary for the most part, as the scale of human endeavors has only recently become significant in a planetary context. We are now entering into a new reality: one in which our ambitions are on a collision course with natural limits on a finite planet. It is a slow-motion trajectory that has been apparent to some for an embarrassingly long time*, but not yet acute enough to have grabbed the lasting attention of the majority. [*D H Meadows et al. The Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome’s Project on the Predicament of Mankind. Universe Books, 1974]” —Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is an associate professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego. Murphy’s keen interest in energy topics began with his teaching a course on energy and the environment for non-science majors at UCSD. Following his natural instincts to educate, Murphy is eager to get people thinking about the quantitatively convincing case that our pursuit of an ever-bigger scale of life faces gigantic challenges and carries significant risks.

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

Sir David Attenborough issues a stern warning to Earthlings in his new documentary film

Sir David Attenborough issues a stern warning to Earthlings in his new documentary film

Physicist Tom Murphy finds much to agree with in his review of the film: “We would keep consuming the earth until we had used it up.”

No 2722 Posted by fw, March 30, 2021“In the 1970s, we started noticing extinctions taking place right before our eyes.

Attenborough makes the point that no one wanted animals to become extinct, but that lack of awareness and a focus on personal benefits obscured the unfolding tragedy. Having largely eliminated or isolated ourselves from predators, achieved control over diseases, and mastered food to order, nothing was left to restrict or stop us. We would keep consuming the earth until we had used it up.” —Tom Murphy, Do the Math

Tom Murphy is an associate professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego. Murphy’s keen interest in energy topics began with his teaching a course on energy and the environment for non-science majors at UCSD. Following his natural instincts to educate, Murphy is eager to get people thinking about the quantitatively convincing case that our pursuit of an ever-bigger scale of life faces gigantic challenges and carries significant risks.

Below is my repost of Tom Murphy’s review of Sir David Attenborough’s new documentary, “A Life on Our Planet.” At the bottom of the repost is a SEE ALSO link to an embedded excerpt from a November 2011 video of a lecture by Murphy.

But first, by way of introduction to Sir David’s new film, here is the Official Trailer.

David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet | Official Trailer | Netflix (2:00-Min)

To read Tom Murphy’s review of this stunning new film, click on the following linked title.

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

citizen action monitor, david attenborough, tom murphy, human consumption, fj white,

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