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!

« Heads Up | Main | Peak Complexity? »

January 01, 2014


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

Tom Fugate

George, your New Years forecast isn't very scary at all. For those of us following the situation closely your predictions for 2014 are pretty mild. You don't anticipate global economic collapse, nuclear war, the Greenland ice sheet to collapse or widespread famine to develop.

I think you are probably right, things will continue to muddle along for a few more years. Looking ahead, assuming US light tight oil production will peak around 2016 and global oil production will go into permanent decline around the same time give or take a couple of years, we can see that a tipping point must come soon where it will be impossible to maintain our massive population, probably before 2020. Then all hell will break loose.

I expect the global bankers will pull out all the stops to maintain BAU for a few more years and barring drastic worsening of the climate they will. Thanks for the thoughtful post as usual.


TOTALLY agree here…EXCEPT for your contention that it is difficult to "blame" folks for their ignorant destructiveness because of the compartmental divisions and inherent complexities of information. I STRONGLY disagree here. I am NO mental genius but I have understood….since I was old enough to understand relatively simple ideas…the SIMPLE logic that infinite growth in a finite system is a logical impossibility. And as a high school social studies teacher, I taught my students about human evolution - because their biology teachers did NOT - and I taught them about the science of global warming because their science teachers did not. And I taught them that capitalist ideology was no less ideologically based than was Marxist ideology. They are BOTH ideological systems. Certainly I did not understand, or teach, all the complexities of reality but come on….at least a SUPERFICIAL understanding of factual reality is possible for the VAST majority of people IF they choose to at least occasionally pay attention to, and to look at least a WEE bit into, FACTUALLY based "news" - scientific, especially, instead of simply nursing at the tits of entertainment TV, etc. etc. etc.. I blame mass, willful ignorance TOTALLY on the willfully ignorant, and resent the fact that I must live in the doomed world of their creation. Alas.

Tony Noerpel

Wow Molly! Way to go.

This is what I wrote on this theme a few weeks ago.

Best regards

Tony Noerpel

Robin Luethe

For some years the Republican party has had a teflon coat. The majority of the voters (even their own voters) favor sensible gun control laws, Medicare and Medicaid, birth control (90%+ of RC laity included), Social Security, unemployment insurance, and accept climate warming. They seem to pay no price at elections for any of these issues.

Any number of religious people fully and without reservations accept evolution and its implications. From an evolutionary viewpoint many find accepting a value system is closely if not identical to many religious peoples' views. I count myself as a believer, but also believe I must accept the value systems of all good people, regardless.

Tony Noerpel

Hi Robin

Good comment but what the Republican party has is money, lots of money. Even Google throws parties for Senator Inhofe. :+)

Tony Noerpel


Insanity in individuals is something rare; but in groups, parties, nations, and epochs, it is the rule.

On the mountains of truth you can never climb in vain: either you will reach a point higher up today, or you will be training your powers so that you will be able to climb higher tomorrow.

Whenever I climb I am followed by a dog called 'Ego'.

In large states public education will always be mediocre, for the same reason that in large kitchens the cooking is usually bad.

Whoever fights monsters/demons should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.

There are no facts, only interpretations.

We have art (including technological, industrial, and agricultural/permacultural art) in order not to die of the truth.

-- Friedrich Nietzsche

The truth will set you free . . . of your occupation, income, purchasing power, family, friends, colleagues, possessions, material security, and, if one is fortunate, one's mind and delusional psycho-emotional attachments to all of the above.

Zen-like stoicism, asceticism, monasticism, and hermitism is already apparent in varying degrees for many in the developed world, i.e., evidence of George's mentioning of the "sharing economy" among Millennials.

We are likely to see a diminishing of "globalization", cosmopolitanism, multiculturalism, hyper-individualism and -materialism and the rise of conservative (small "c") collectivism and sustainable scale locally and regionally, which will take on a more pragmatic tribalism, exhibiting its own form of exclusivity, including racism, classism, and sorting, allocating, and conferring of status based on adaptable technical and social skills, not the least of which will be producing and preserving food and securing it by violence, if necessary.

These mass-social developments have precedent in history (1830s-40s, 1880s-90s, 1930s-40s, and Japan since the 1990s) during previous debt-deflationary regimes/epochs in which we find ourselves today, albeit the slow-motion variety.

A combination of cash/liquidity (not fiat digital debt-money book-entry credit proxies, such as stocks, bonds, and futures contracts) and practicable survival, adaptive, and barter/trading skills will be dear, even indispensable.

Learning to reduce one's material consumption per capita to an austere, Spartan-like level per capita will be a highly valuable investment in time, effort, and intentions.

As such, one is advised to become a carpenter, welder, mechanic, electrician, composting permaculturalist, midwife, weapon-toting, water-carrying, wood-chopping, PC and network guru, biologist, chemist, ecologist, animal husband, horticulturalist, enlightened warrior, Zen monk artist/musician and chef, advocating cohousing/intential communities, recycling, solar, wind, and water power,
and turning off the TV (the means of propaganda for oil empire and the unrealistic top-down values and lifestyles of the top 0.01-0.1% to 1% few can emulate).

Funny thing is, before the 1950s, America was populated by a majority of these types, only they didn't have a framed sheepskin(s) to affirm their "academic" credentials with letters after their names.

I am, to date, unaware of any university or similar institution providing the necessary preparation, training, and credentialing for such a career choice. No one could afford such a formal "education"/credential because its value in terms of survival is priceless for the individual, family, community, and larger society.

But none of this is lost on the rentier "Elysium"-like Power Elite top 0.01-0.1% and their managerial, technocratic, and ministerial intellectual castes in the next 0.9-9.9%, those who have been socialized, sorted, allocated, credentialed, and rewarded to advance "The Plan" for the rest of us whose tickets won't be punched to continue the journey hereafter aboard Spaceship Earth past mid-century or sooner.


Thank you, Tony! Happy New Year!

Reverse Engineer

"Now, it seems, we might also see lessened cloud cover that will further reduce the albedo of the planet, leading to more penetration of light and more warming."-GM

Nice Rant George!

Can you point me to the papers that suggest less cloud cover coming down the pipe?

I am having difficulty figuring how you could have LESS cloud cover with higher temps and more water vapor in the atmosphere.


George Mobus


I prefer not to think of these as "predictions" as much as simply focusing on the trends as well as exposing the underlying forces. The world, our civilizations, and even all of us as individuals are chaotic systems, inherently unpredictable. Yet we can say something useful about the attractor basin we seem to be caught in.


I STRONGLY disagree here. I am NO mental genius but I have understood…

Or, having met you and reading some past comments, may I suggest that you are above average in sapience! Ergo, you can grasp the systemeness of it all. I know several certified geniuses who, in my oh-so-humble opinion can't see the forest for the bark on the single little tree that they study. It isn't intelligence per se that causes someone to step back an look at the whole. It might help when it comes to linking details together. But it isn't a prerequisite for grasping the significance of major patterns.

When I claim that people are stupid I also mean that they are so low in sapience that they don't even think to step back. They haven't the wisdom. They can still be clever but definitely not wise.

In my mind, "willful" ignorance implies that they actually do know the reality but are stubbornly ignoring it for some other purpose. Or they might suspect there is some truth to what is being said, but refuse to look at the evidence for fear of discovering that truth. Either way the cause is a lack of wisdom. And it is that lack that I have claimed all along is the reason for our situation. Furthermore, what I am saying is that lack is not a willful act, but the result of coevolution of our cultures and our species resulting from the advent of agriculture. Ergo, I cannot "blame" people like Inhofe or Dimon for their stupidity any more than I can blame someone with an IQ of 60 for not learning calculus. We need to be careful in assessing blame by projecting a supposed attribute (like stubborn refusal to accept a scientific model as possibly correct) without actually testing that attribution. Take Inhofe for example. I have read some of his correspondences with a former aid who was in charge of orchestrating the testimonies of several global warming deniers, about six years ago. In those he earnestly laid out his strong belief that god's plan was at work and that humans simply were too puny to cause it. Since these were supposedly private communiques I suspect he was being completely honest (but who can really know, right?) My point is that a more parsimonious (and in my view more likely) explanation is that the vast majority of people are really like Inhofe in that they simply, as a result of being low on the sapience scale, fell victims to early ideological (religious and political) beliefs and are inherently unable to extricate themselves no matter how much science you throw at them.

At least that's my take.


Referring to your article: First thanks for the referal! And thanks for introducing Kahan. I will have to follow up there. To other readers, if you haven't already done so, I recommend you take a look at Tony's link.

My problem with this idea of scientific literacy (or sufficient scientific literacy) comes from my own experiences trying to teach computer and systems science. My general impression is that the majority of minds I encounter are really not capable of obtaining what I would consider sufficient literacy. I have not completely ruled out the possibility that this incapacity is inherent, but neither am I convinced that it is instilled via our education system, which teaches subjects in disciplinary silos as opposed to holistically. Perhaps it is a combination of both. But the fact is that the vast majority of people coming through the American education system do not either voluntarily or mandatorily get exposed to a sampling of all of the natural sciences. Moreover, they never get exposed to systems science which could actually help them integrate the other sciences into a holistic picture of how the world works.

I have come to accept the likelihood that naught but a handful of people in this world are able to, on their own recognizance, pursue an education sufficient to allow them to treat all of the sciences as an integrated whole of knowledge. And by knowledge I mean "understanding", not just an accumulation of facts and figures.

BTW: I don't think this is a Republican vs. Democrat (or associated ideologies) thing, or as you characterize them, as Hierarch Individualists vs. Egalitarian Communitarians. Liberal minded people are more willing to accept what others, especially scientists, say where conservatives are generally skeptical of anything said that goes against their ideology. But in my experience neither mind-set is really cognizant of the actual science. That is, neither is truly scientifically literate especially. I hang more with liberals than conservatives, and I assure you that does not mean they are broadly educated in the sciences.

@Robin L.

Good sentiment, nicely put. But to me the issue isn't one of merely accepting what good people say, it is understanding what they mean. The issue of scientific literacy isn't just about understanding the efficacy of science as a way of knowing, but of being able to make legitimate judgments about science-based claims. Science, and scientists, are not automatically right about every claim. When new claims emerge (like my hypothesis about sapience), the public needs to be able to judge for themselves or be skeptical until more evidence is provided. This is especially true in fields that have political or health implications. The public should not act on a mere conjecture just because a bonafide scientist claims it (and this is especially the case for claims communicated through the media!) With adequate scientific literacy comes tacit knowledge to apply to judgment of such claims.

The conservatives were skeptical of global warming for the wrong reasons. They reacted against the issue because they did understand the implication that shutting down the burning of fossil fuels would put an end to their precious capitalism-profit-growth economy -- the basis of their wealth production. They translated their beliefs into the rhetoric of skepticism but not because they were judging based on their scientific knowledge.

In the case of global warming, someone who did understand basic physics and chemistry would have been skeptical in the early days because the open question was still, could the measured increases in warming be due to human-base causes. The models were still crude. Many of my (non-climatologist) scientist friends held back acceptance of the thesis on the basis that the link was insufficiently made at that time. This was, I think, the proper form of skepticism. As Carl Sagan said, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence -- too true.

So what happened. The scientists (geologists, climatologist, archeologist - you name it) got to work digging deeper, for physical evidence as well as improved models. And the developments of evidence painted an increasingly clear picture of the dynamics of climate and found extraordinary evidence of humans holding the smoking gun.

That kind of skepticism is healthy and drives science as a enduring process. But it comes from adequate scientific literacy. And, again, I think there are only a handful of people on this planet who have the capacity to develop it.

I am glad that there are many people who are accepting of what science tells us about the nature of the universe and can live their lives without necessarily completely understanding the science. But, as you point out, it really then becomes a matter of politics and dueling ideologies and the Republicans have the bigger guns.


Don't get me wrong. I am a big "fan" of Nietzsche. However the claim that crowds and epochs are generally insane must count as a personal observation of his. I know of no scientific study that purports to provide evidence of the efficacy of this observation.

OTOH: If the vast majority of individuals are of low sapience (in my observation space) then the aggregate failures of judgment must, in hindsight, make it appear that the crowds of that time were insane. If one parses history carefully they can find evidence that actors carried out what, in the context of the moment, seemed rational, perhaps even just and noble to the beneficiaries. But the end result for the world as a whole was insane. For example take Harry Truman's decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki. To many Americans this act put a rapid end to WWII in the Pacific and saved many American lives. Not so much for the Japanese. And it put the Soviets on notice resulting in the nuclear arms race. That was truly insane (MAD - mutually assured destruction!)


The link was in the post. Remember, that is the thing about science; it often shows our intuitions are inadequate!


Tony Noerpel

Hi George et al

As a new years gift might I recommend From Strange Simplicity to Complex Familiarity by Manfred Eigen? It isn't going to solve the world's problems but as an ecolate view of the evolution of life it is pretty cool.


Reverse Engineer

The HuffPo article? I didn't catch how that indicates less of a cloud cover, just a redistribution of the vapor thorugh different layers of the troposphere.


George Mobus


Thanks for the pointer.


The article I refer to is the Nature (primary) article, not the HuffPo article. It points out how a dehydration effect, due to warming, at lower altitudes allows solar penetration further into the atmosphere and thus increases heating.

Please just click on the link!


Ken Barrows

If interest rates rise 2% this year (say the 10 UST goes from 3% to 5%), then the TSHTF.

If the TPTB can hold the rate below 5%, collapse will still come soon enough! Credit can also trump ecology for so long.

Reverse Engineer

I did click the link George. All that is up is the abstract and a few graphs and tables, in very small format.

The article itself is behind a paywall. I'm not going to fork over to Nature for this, that is an Illuminati controlled publication.

The abstract reads as follows:

"Equilibrium climate sensitivity refers to the ultimate change in global mean temperature in response to a change in external forcing. Despite decades of research attempting to narrow uncertainties, equilibrium climate sensitivity estimates from climate models still span roughly 1.5 to 5 degrees Celsius for a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, precluding accurate projections of future climate. The spread arises largely from differences in the feedback from low clouds, for reasons not yet understood. Here we show that differences in the simulated strength of convective mixing between the lower and middle tropical troposphere explain about half of the variance in climate sensitivity estimated by 43 climate models. The apparent mechanism is that such mixing dehydrates the low-cloud layer at a rate that increases as the climate warms, and this rate of increase depends on the initial mixing strength, linking the mixing to cloud feedback. The mixing inferred from observations appears to be sufficiently strong to imply a climate sensitivity of more than 3 degrees for a doubling of carbon dioxide. This is significantly higher than the currently accepted lower bound of 1.5 degrees, thereby constraining model projections towards relatively severe future warming."

It says the low cloud layer is dehydrated. It doesn't say what happens to the high cloud layer. The water vapor has to go somewhere George, it doesn't vanish.


George Mobus


Can't help you further. Got other chores to take care of. My suggestion is that you go to a library that subscribes and read the article further. Besides who said this one model promises to have all the answers. Maybe you could build a model that clarifies.

Michael Alan Lewis

Yes, yes, and, of yeah, yes.

"There is no hope for salvation for civilization."

Thank goodness! Civilization, if that's what it is, is way passed its sell-by date.

Collapse is natural, necessary and inevitable. Might as well get used to it, get ready for it and stop all the useless grumbling. Collapse is good for you, good for life and good for the planet. Embrace it, make it your won.

Encourage economic collapse hereabouts. Be the change you wish to see in the world. Economic collapse begins at home.

Sweep out the old, trot in the new. Happy new Wolrd!

Tony Noerpel


I share your frustration since as citizens we pay for the research but do not have easy access to it. As George writes you can find a copy of Nature at any college library. But if you write to the author here (

and ask for a pre-print he will almost certainly send you a soft copy. It will be virtually the same as the published paper but not the final as the author does not have the copyright for that. you can also find discussion about the paper at real climate:
and also here:

Peter Sinclair discusses it on his blog.

best regards

Tony Noerpel

Tony Noerpel


I think I broke this thing but let me try again. You can find information about the paper at real climate here:

and also here:

If you email the corresponding author here (
I'm sure he will send you a pre-print.

best regards

Tony Noerpel

Reverse Engineer

Well, since I lack access to a Cray here on the Last Great Frontier, I'm going to have a bit of trouble with making a decent atmospheric model. ;)

I don't dispute that we are going to see a rise in avg temps in the 4 degree C range, and this is going to stress the biosphere by a lot. Tony, I went to check your links out also.

My main questions revolve around what occurs in the models when we reach temps seen in the PETM. SOMETHING reversed the trend at this point. What was it? Can the current models account for why the warming trend reversed after the PETM?

Inquiring minds want to know.


Tony Noerpel


Do you have a name? Personally, I'm not much for hiding behind an alias but certainly respect your right to do that. This is what I wrote in 2011 regards the PETM:

Cui's paper is very good, but there has been more recent research published describing this event. There was a very recent paper in Nature Geoscience but I will have to work to dig that up.

The answer to your question though, which I didn't think to address is simply that over the course of about 200,000 years the atmospheric carbon which caused the event was gradually reabsorbed by the oceans. That is part of the reason why the PETM was a major marine extinction event.

The carbon we introduce into the atmosphere will over thousands of years be bled out of the atmosphere, too. Too late for us but good for the recovery of the biosphere after we are gone, except for marine life which is unfortunately set up for a sizable die off.

Tony Noerpel

The comments to this entry are closed.