How Does the World Work?

  • See the About page for a description of the subjects of interest covered in this blog.

Series Indexes

Global Issues Blogroll

Blog powered by Typepad

Comment Policy

  • Comments
    Comments are open and welcome as long as they are not offensive or hateful. Also this site is commercial free so any comments that are offensive or promotional will be removed. Good questions are always welcome!

« What Can the Next President Do? | Main | Stuck in Hurricane Sandy »

October 17, 2012


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Nick - Thanks to you too.

Regarding the lack of prosecution and conviction, the truth is that the legislators, the regulators and the prosecutors are indistinguishable from the perpetrators. The evidence is clearly that a common street mugger gets thrown into the slammer post-haste, but a lauded Wall Street heist-meiester gets million-dollar bonuses and dinner with the president.

I'll just add that there is an interesting oasis of calm once one has reached the other side of depression over the state of the world. The best I can describe it is that it's as if a huge storm has passed and you realize that if you say NO to it, Fear actually has no power over you.

Molly - thanks for your comment.

George Mobus

Something screwy with typepad today. I couldn't log in to reply to comments even though I am logged in to my account dashboard. So, just letting you know this is me!


I suspect you are right about that, at least since the population density is driving us toward more competitive attitudes about everything. Once upon a time debates were actually based on substance. I imagine Lincoln and Douglas are rolling in their graves about now.


Just so. While I will be presenting the model and its justification, the fact is that it is mostly an academic exercise at this point! I guess my hope is that the seed of understanding might survive the bottleneck somehow and some future civilization will be able to grasp that money is not wealth. As for the Technocrats, I am aware of their positions. I think a major difference, however, is that I focus on the actual energy available to do useful economic work (exergy) rather than total energy extracted. This takes EROI and work process efficiencies into account.


In hindsight, how could we have been so naive to believe Obama's Yes-We-Can call to action a mere four years ago.

Indeed. I too allowed myself to hope, at least for the idea that the president would start to lead and tell the citizens the truth about the future. Silly me. I wrote a series of posts, "the acid test" series, in which I proposed that if Obama couldn't do it that that would spell the end of managing a transition to post-carbon society. I think that has been born out in fact. When Larry Summers was brought in to advise on the economy I knew it was already over before it could even begin.


Ecological Econ is an older version of economics that attempted to incorporate externalized costs, such as loss of ecological services (e.g. water filtering) or pollution cleanup, into the economic system. Anything by Herman Daly will be good. A basic book is: "Ecological Economics", Daly and Farley, Island Press.

Biophysical Econ is closely related to EE but emphasizes energetics and especially the effects of depletion of fossil fuels along with declining EROI.


Thanks for that link.


I will post my presentation here when I get back. Still working on it now.

I haven't met Mr. Rubin, but I agree that there is resonance there.


You just confirmed my impression of McKenna! I will be voting on local positions, just not the presidential race. Or, I may just write in my own name!


I think all of us who became aware of the dynamics of what is happening in our so-called civilization have gone through a depression. It would be strange not to have that kind of reaction. It is true that we are on the brink of a major evolutionary event that will see the vast majority of humans wiped out in a very short time period. We are precipitating mass extinctions, true. But I guess I am a bit more hopeful that there is some potential for some form of human (not Homo sapiens as such) to survive. That gives me something to cling to and even work toward. If I turn out to be wrong, then so be it. At least I have something to work toward that keeps me from falling into total dismay in the meantime.

I was encouraged by your last sentences in the second post. You would be most welcome to take up the cause of human evolution.


Once again thanks for thoughtful and insightful comments. QE continues to mostly attract such thoughtful comments and I am happy not to have the barrage of "quicky" one-liner or disrespectful comments that plague so many other blogs.

Regards to all.



If you read the link to the Hubbert interviews you will see that he focuses on net energy as well.
Hubbert was a giant......a genius ahead of his time.


With thinking like this, we here in PA won't have to worry about anything at all - i'm sure it'll all work out just fine . . . what could go wrong?


Tom - Thanks for the heads-up. There I was thinking that the nuclear and oil industries cooperate to avoid calamity, and the guys at CERN know what they're doing messing around with black hole creation, and Santa is collaborating with the Easter Bunny to bring me that blow-up doll I've always wanted.

Oh to be in PA when the air is full of [ insert as appropriate ].

Steven Earl Salmony


The Untold Story of the Ecological Science of Human Population Dynamics, presented at the following link,

There is one issue that is not being given the attention it deserves. I want to ask you to focus on human exceptionalism as it relates to population dynamics of the human species. How are we to grasp the gravity of the human predicament, much less gain consensus about how to go forward, if we cannot share an adequate, scientific understanding of the ‘placement’ of the human species within the order of living things. Specifically, is the population dynamics of the human species essentially similar to, or different from the population dynamics of other species? In terms of our population dynamics are human beings actually exceptional? If so, where is the science for an assertion of human exceptionalism vis a vis its population dynamics. The population dynamics of non-human species are routinely and immediately understood. Food is the independent variable and population numbers is the dependent variable. More food equals more organisms; less food equals less organisms; and no food, no organisms. But the minute our focus shifts to human organisms, everything we know from well established scientific research about population dynamics is turned upside down. We widely share, consensually validate and automatically broadcast via the mass media the notion that the human species must grow food in order to meet the needs of growing human population. All of sudden human population numbers is the independent variable and food is the dependent variable. Where is the scientific research for this distinctly human exceptionalism with regard to the population dynamics of humankind? I cannot find sufficient scientific support for such exceptionalism.

Steven Earl Salmony

For Tsimane, birth control access may not cut fertility

What can we learn from this research about human population dynamics and demographic transition theory?

What is the relationship between food supply and human population numbers? Is human population dynamics essentially similar to, or different from the population dynamics of other species?



We are eating Petroleum..........


Steven E S - I'm probably the least expert visitor here, but to my mind, the operative distinguishing factor is control. Once Homo sapiens started its attempts to control the food supply (initially via farming and later by rapacious use of fossil fuels to increase food production inter alia), the dynamic reversed so that food became the dependent variable.

We are where we are today (as exhaustively discussed by George and others over recent years) because we took control to a ridiculously unsapient level, to the point where we have ripped and shredded the biosphere that nurtures all life.

Apologies if I have over-simplified things in my response.

Steven Salmony

I do think it worth noting that 'the emperor has no clothes' when it is so very evident. Allow me to offer an examples from Guy Mc's blog where bloggers willingly acknowledge rather than willfully deny or silently condone what our lights and best available science indicate regarding human exceptionalism as it relates to the population dynamics of the human species,

"SES : I cannot find sufficient scientific support for such exceptionalism.

I don’t think that there is any, is there ? It’s just people clinging to a comforting myth. As far as I know, we are subject to the same ecological laws as the reindeer on St. Matthew Island. Except that we found coal and oil. Which can be thought of as a handy ship arriving every winter with an enormous quantity of a hay… until one winter, it does not arrive anymore...

October 25th, 2012 at 9:07 am

Thank you for summarizing the issue in such clear terms.

At the moment, as we are still in the thralls of the growth and progress delusion, any discussion of depopulation is verboten. The big, ugly questions surrounding depopulation are who decides?, who lives?, who dies? and by what means would depopulation be carried out? The issues are especially thorny since we are running out of time.

The likelihood of a near term managed population and economic contraction (short of some science-fictionesque engineered pathogen) seem pretty slim......

October 25th, 2012 at 9:18 am
SES you are of course exactly right. The problem is that the population is now so large that no restriction of births can help soon enough. As I think I have shown, restriction of all births only gets us to 4 billion in 60 years. So what is the point of talking about population as if it was a problem we could address. It will be addressed by other means – nature through famine, disease, or by humans through war, or germ warfare. But increasingly it looks like climate change will just solve the whole thing by wiping us out. There is nothing more to be done about population other than each individual thinking about what kind of world they would bring a child into and hopefully taking advantage of permanent sterilization before all birth control is gone.

Steven Earl Salmony

...the essence of this human-driven tragedy: to know that a given course of action will lead to disaster but to pursue it nevertheless.
If we keep on doing what we are doing now and repeating past mistakes by continuing not only to recklessly overconsume, relentlessly overproduce and righteously overpopulate in our planetary home but also to deny science, little that is new and sustainable will occur in a timely way.Without an acknowledgement of ALL the root causes of what is ailing humanity, how are we to move forward meaningfully to raise awareness of the global predicament humankind appears to be induced?Once awareness is raised among a critical mass of people, it becomes possible to organize for the purpose of formulating policies for humane and sustainable collective action.
The willful denial of science has kept us and continues to keep us from gaining momentum needed to reasonably address and sensibly overcome the human-driven challenges that threaten future human wellbeing and environmental health.The tasks at hand for scientists are to freely acknowledge, skillfully examine and carefully interpret evidence as well as to encourage that all evidence regarding the population dynamics of the human species be thoroughly reviewed.It is irresponsible and harmful for professionals with appropriate expertise to remain silent rather than speak out for necessary change, change that is fair and humane in the development of population policy and programs of action.

Steven Salmony

I live in Chapel Hill, NC. Please recognize the undeniable connection between the economic and population growth in Chapel Hill on the one hand and economic and population growth globally. Chapel Hillians are human beings just like all other human beings on the planet. In Chapel Hill we consume, produce and procreate just like everyone else in the human family. Economic growth and population growth are not evenly distributed. On the surface of the Earth, I see three worlds. An overdeveloped world, of which Chapel Hill is a tiny part, is one world. The overdeveloped world includes generally Canada, the USA, Western Europe, Australia and Japan. Next comes the developing world: China, Russia, Brazil, India and Eastern Europe. The remaining countries, mostly in Africa, South America and scattered elsewhere comprise the underdeveloped world. Population growth is greatest in the developing and underdeveloped; whereas, economic growth is greatest (and has been for many generations) in the overdeveloped world. Pollution is least in the underdeveloped and greatest in the developing world now. But viewed from an historical perspective, it is the overdeveloped that has produced much more pollution than the developing and underdeveloped worlds have ever or likely will ever produce.

When taken together, the population growth activities and the economic growth activities of all three ‘worlds’ can be seen as so colossal in scale and so rapid in rate of increase, that a planet of the size, composition and ecology cannot much longer, much less forever, sustain what the human species is doing worldwide. Outrageous per capita overconsumption and individual hoarding of limited resources, relentless increase in overproduction capabilities of corporate enterprise, and unbridled growth of absolute global human population numbers that are occurring synergistically the world over appear to be reaching the point of becoming patently unsustainable, as I see things. Every person on the planet is implicated in this wicked situation. The human community is presenting a human-driven predicament to itself. Until more of us learn to “think globally and act locally”, the gigantic and complex predicament looming ominously before all of us will grow larger day by day, and more difficult to address and overcome, I suppose.

George Mobus


There is one issue that is not being given the attention it deserves. I want to ask you to focus on human exceptionalism as it relates to population dynamics of the human species.

Actually I think I have addressed this issue in terms of the lack of sapience in our species (on average). Were we a truly sapient (wise) species I doubt that "exceptionalism" would have ever gotten on the radar screen.

OTOH, evolution progresses in increments most of the time. We had to go through the stage of early, minimal sapience before we could reach a higher stage. And it remains an open question if that stage will ever come to pass on this planet (hope it has somewhere in the galaxy!)

Once awareness is raised among a critical mass of people, it becomes possible to organize for the purpose of formulating policies for humane and sustainable collective action.
Emphasis mine.

Therein lies the real problem. What if there are so few people in the population with a sufficient level of sapience that such a critical mass is actually not possible? All the evidence I see seems to bolster the idea that sufficient sapience is a rare commodity in the current species. There are many who do see the problem and understand that if only we humans would act and think differently we could avoid the bottleneck. But we also need to understand that the vast majority of humans are incapable of such thinking. It can't be taught. The capacity has a genetic basis. In fact, higher sapient thinking is distinctly foreign to Homo (pseudo)sapiens, I suspect.


Not really oversimplified at all. Just succinct!



Hello.This article was really fascinating, especially because I was browsing for thoughts on this issue last week..... i really enjoy your blog
[Moderator's edit: Removed commercial URL.]

The comments to this entry are closed.