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« Steps toward an energy solution | Main | Our energy cocoon »

February 01, 2009


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John Feeney

"And that is that there are really already too many of us on this planet."

It's amazing, really, how many people don't yet get that. They still talk about "slowing" or "stabilizing" population growth. But I know I'm not alone in saying that the more I've studied the issue the clearer it's become that we are in overshoot and lower the estimates of carrying capacity which seem to make sense.

Also, just recognizing that we are clearly in overshoot wipes away many of the arguments against addressing population. (e.g., "Population growth rates have been going down. Population may stabilize later this century!")

George Mobus


Thank you for organizing this important effort to get the message out in a rational, comprehensive way. Visiting the GPSO page, I see there are already some great 'speak outs' in just the first day.



Nice summary george...Am finding your sapience series quite difficult and I work in a science background!
I like your observation 'Actually the financial wizards were not responding to lack of energy so much as lack of seeing their paper assets bear fruit'You can bet they have no clue whatsoever at what has occured I have always had a distin for the whole quasi-religious subject of economics...perhaps it should be amalgamated in the theology departments in Universities although I find theologists an more agreeable breed....
The only 2 economics theories I have any time for are Tobins tax and the Khazzoom-Brookes postulate (an update of jevons paradox)
Which I cant recall you mentioning George (I'm confident you have but not recently?) They both seem to be promising candidates for making contributions &understanding to a restructured world- and its limits.

Will be following the GPO as it gathers momentum.

George Mobus


Thanks for bringing up the Khazzoom-Brookes postulate. I had read about this on the Oil Drum sometime back but couldn't remember the name, so your posting here is timely and helpful.

It just shows that without understanding the finite limits of energy resources, our appetites for energy are boundless. If we can't eat it, we can buy something that we can stare at in the corner of our living room for a bit and then forget about.


John Hartshorn

The Khazzoom-Brookes postulate could be more colloquially stated as "The easier it is to obtain pleasure, the more pleasure (gains, rewards, profits, toys, leisure time, McMansions, SUVs, luxury vacations - you name it) people will try to obtain. The postulate works because it describes a law of human nature. The survival instinct always dictates that we acquire the maximum possible assurance against future want, and the hedonic imperative dictates the pursuit of rewards well past the point of diminishing returns. Unfortunately(???) this leads to the logical conclusion that the only ultimately sustainable society is one in which these destructive biologically-based tendencies are controlled by some sort of central authority with the wisdom and power to select optimal solutions for society as a whole and then enforce guidelines to be sure they are fulfilled. This logic is upsetting to anyone raised with trust and faith in the ability of democratic societies to iron out big problems through the expression of the popular will, at least given the present level of political discourse in the US.

George Mobus

Precisely the problem John. The current species of Homo is still more inclined to be motivated and act on animal spirits than is prudent. Our judgment is far to affected by limbic inputs than we like to believe (though the psychological evidence is building rapidly that Homo economous is a myth). In my writing on sapience (wisdom) I point out that one of the functions of sapience (mediated in the prefrontal cortex) is to down-modulate and "control" those animal spirits (limibic drives, emotions, etc.) so as to allow something closer to rational thought, through more considered and knowledge-based judgment, to prevail. We Homo sapiens, unfortunately, are just the emergent representatives of sapient capacity, as species go. So our capacity is limited and primitive. My great hope is that evolution will work to expand the areas of the prefrontal cortex responsible for filtering limbic-based biases from our judgment facilities giving rise to a much wiser population. The problem, of course, is how do we either accelerate evolution to beat the obvious tendencies we have to commit species-cide?

Short of a truly wise philosopher king (well grounded in science) what do we do?

My own view of the most likely scenario is that Homo sapiens will self-destruct but leave a remnant of individuals who are in the right tail of a "sapience" distribution, who will get through the evolutionary bottleneck and give rise to an incipient new species I like to think of as Homo eusapiens - Man the wise. However it turns out, I put my "faith" in evolution as the way of change in nature. And we are part of nature.


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