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« What counts as real wealth? | Main | The Acid Test Revisited »

February 20, 2009


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I read an interesting paper on population overshoot. The writer suggests a different approach to control the population, begin to cut food supplies!


Wow, wow, wow.... This is the best summary of humanity's current predicament I've seen to date. I almost want to type one word to describe what this article summarizes but it is such a complex issue.

I believe you covered almost everything, the law of receding horizons, EROEI, peak oil, discount rates and of course overshoot. Wonderful article I enjoyed reading it!

The biggest problem that limits people from understanding any of these issues it seems, is their pride and huberis which seems to make the jump that humans are part of a separate environment or system than the "natural ones" or that they are above physical laws. I believe there is awful feedback loop that results when society becomes too complex. People in general lack a system perspective, sapience or wisdom, if you will, as you've said in this essay and many others. When society becomes networks upon networks built on, you guessed it, more networks, people often in their own isolated part of this network, become more isolated from the processes of the network as a whole. Before the fossil fuel age, agriculture was a relatively simple process that everyone could see unfolding all around them. They could plainly see, that if these crops failed they were in big trouble. Today, people seem to understand if mentioned that modern petro-agriculture is created through many processes which most can identify with individually. But by large, The lay persons idea of the food production process involves a man with a name-tag stacking it on the shelf, and themselves carrying it to the register and paying for it. Nobody, while they have a vague understanding of what tractors, 18-wheelers and barges do, they never seem to make the connection between these processes and the grocery store. Of those that do, It seems not many seem to make the links between energy production process and all the steps it takes to get to those tractors, irrigation pumps and cargo-container filled ships. Even the best systems analyst/generalist have only vague and generalized ideas of the the entire system as a whole, energy, economy and environment based on general relationships. I guess as we add more systems to our society our ability to understand the whole system fades dramatically. I see this in the real world all the time. The Energy Secretary of our state, whom I asked several questions and discussed certain matters with, seemed to have this problems of placing boundaries too narrowly. He seemed to understand the oil production issues but didn't quite get the concepts you illustrated about the limits to renewable energies or their reliance on fossil fuel. The more vague these concept of these systems and networks that run society become, the easier we can ignore hard facts or remain in complete denial, because the more complex things get, facts turn to opinions. It is becomes easier to label someone as a doom and gloom pessimist facist neo-liberal socialist darwin-nazi than to start to start a logical discussion or analysis of the factors involved in these issues.


From an evolutionary perspective i think this comes from the fact that as a species we are not evolutionarily caught-up with our complex society's. We are relatively the same biologically and evolutionarily as we were a million years ago, however the complexity of civilization has only developed in the last few thousand years. Politicians take advantage of the fact that people are more drawn to the aspects of a person than they are the issues or complex ideals they may be discussing. Since our lineage from primates, it was much more beneficial to be able to tell class relationships and hierarchical order than it was to understand the ways and mechanics of procuring food. Recent research shows that even baboons are excellent at determining leaders and the social relationships between the two. In our society, a logical argument can be defeated in the minds of the masses with simple charismatic rhetoric, which politicians are masters of. It seems that we can't even get around the whole, shooting of the messenger, which is so often used against peak oil and many of these uncomfortable matters. I think you made an excellent point that we are not suited biologically to get past these problems. Most my college age friends while they might grasp the ideal of peak oil, don't understand it's gravity nor have the interest or patience to delve into any of this stuff. It seems like most people are apathetic on any issue or ideal outside their narrow boundary bubble, or don't rationally pursue understanding along the lines of the scientific method or logical thinking, but instead find facts to fit their conclusions. I'm sure I've done this kind of thinking somewhere along the line but not as much as most I hope.


Ironically we are not evolved to fit the environment we've created. Perhaps, though, evolution knows what is best to survive. After all, systems perspectives and thinking, lots of curiosity, the gaining of knowledge are not as useful as we'd think in the natural world that was indicative of most of our species life. This way of life we live is obviously not meant to last, so why should we think that the type of thinking used to sustain it should be a desirable trait? Wisdom seems to be a trait not inherently valuable to our long term survival as a species, then again, we might be doomed to extinction due to the unnatural environment we have created because of our lack of it. I guess only time can tell for sure?


"We must, of course, plan a course that exploits all feasible renewable sources of energy as best we can........... a steady-state, sustainable world. "

One other idea: I think that there are limiting factors on how comfortable of a standard of living one can maintain under a sustainable society using renewable energy flows. Renewable energy is very very disperse, and certain standards of living require certain levels of energy concentration. I'm guessing that in a truly sustainable society the only mechanism for which people can concentrate energy are very labor intensive which explains the common use of slave and animal labor throughout history? If your idea of a comfortable sustainable living is like much of the green crowd, i think that it might be a bit of a dream. It might be easier to just alter our perception of whats comfortable? Perhaps that's why drugs are so addictive? Besides, whats to keep a society from trying to increase its level of comfort? I think Jeff Vail argues that at its root, hierarchical society is unsustainable because of these types of positive feedback loops. Which he outlines in his article "The Problem of Growth."

Very enjoyable post, I apologize if my thoughts and comments a bit jumbled or disorganized. Keep up the blogging!



Eloquent summary of your numerous posts on this vital subject George. In fact the more I read the easier the links become- I have been using them-in my own words- to illustrate points on another forum, hope you dont mind me spreading the word:-)
It is a little know fact that our political masters( and inferiors)are bewitched by the econommist 'masters of the universe' to the extent that none of them bother to question the origin of neo classical economists theories they rely on so heavily.
it turns out these theories have their genesis in the 19th century redundant thermodynamics theories of Hermann von Helmholtz;
These nonsensical assumptions can be summarised as:
1.The market system is a closed circular flow between production and consumption, with no inlets or outlets.
2.Natural resources exist in a domain that is separate and distinct from a closed market system.
3.The economic value of these resources can be determined only by the dynamics that operate within this system.
4. The costs of damage to the external natural environment by economic activities must be treated as costs that lie outside the closed market system or as costs that cannot be included in the pricing mechanisms that operate within the system.
.....and most idiotically of all.....
5. The external resources of nature are largely inexhaustible, and those that are not can be replaced by other resources or by technologies that minimize the use of the exhaustible resources or that rely on other resources.
6. There are no biophysical limits to the growth of market systems.

Tell us if (ha ha) you get any kind of personel or group response to GPS from our masters George...excuse the cynicism!

George Mobus

Andrew and Gary,

Thanks for the great comments. More thoughts coming.




Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the globalised forces
And all the economists mien
Couldn't put Humpty
Together again.


(Copyright @GA 23/02/09)!

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