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Murray Grimwood traces a long history of 'false narratives', and finds we're now at the point where the consequences are biting hard

Murray Grimwood traces a long history of 'false narratives', and finds we're now at the point where the consequences are biting hard
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By Murray Grimwood*

All cultures have had narratives. Many were concocted to fill gaps in currently-held knowledge, and some of those gap-filling narratives evolved into beliefs. Problems come when knowledge moves on; those with vested interests in the displaced beliefs fight rearguard-actions; Doctrine Vs Darwin being a classic example.

Our current problem is that our collectively-held narrative was – and still is – incorrectly based, which has led to our beliefs disintegrating and polarizing even as narrative-incompatible knowledge becomes increasingly ignored. We are witnessing the second stage of narrative-change in a lifetime; the first was the exchanging of societal objectives for economic ones in the 1970’s. Neither narrative addressed the overarching truth and now the economic one is clearly on the ebb; the imperative is to ascertain what comes next?

What the dominant culture believes:

The dominant culture believed that humankind is superior to Nature, via its superior ability to think. So dominant has this idea become, that many seem to assume we can achieve anything, fix anything, and get by without the rest of the biosphere.  

The dominant culture worships an ever-bigger pile of virtual, keystroke-issued debt-tokens. We call these digital tokens ‘money’, and expect to be able to exchange them for ‘stuff’ (processed parts of the planet), any time we choose.

The dominant culture lauds Growth; Growth is the default offering from politicians, Growth is the hope for the disenfranchised; Growth is the argument for the continued expansion of all activities.

The dominant culture has overridden, ignored or sidestepped those who have sounded clear warnings. That list includes Malthus, Mills, Soddy, Hubbert, Hardin, Catton, Meadows et al, and many since. Culprits in this overriding, ignoring and sidestepping, include politics, academia and the media; three sources society turns to for narrative.

The dominant culture is currently having an attack of the guilts. Ignoring the fact that all humans today are the result of countless dominations (survivals of the fittest, in pragmatic terms), it is seeking to assuage guilt by attempting to redress the most recent local domination-event.

And the dominant culture has adopted a weasel-word from economics, with which it has excused itself. The word is: ‘Externalities’.  The problem is – they weren’t.

The true narrative

Our true narrative can be summed-up in one simple diagram:

Take time to follow it through. Those injections and ejections of energy and materials (resources) are what we, inside the box, have called ‘externalities’. The major portion of the energy we currently use is a finite stock of old solar energy; much more concentrated than the real-time solar supply. Note that without energy and resources going into ‘the economic system’, the latter……………isn’t. Note that energy cannot be recycled; energy degradation (known as ‘entropy’) is strictly a one-way trip. Note that not all material can be recycled; physical entropy often takes too much energy to parry (which we see as being ‘too expensive’, and therefore avoid).

Inside that box and ignoring the outer – finite - circle, we chose to believe we could grow both our numbers, and our per-head ‘consumption’, forever. In short, we chose to believe a falsehood.

We chose to believe those who peddled a different diagram:

Note the lack of energy and material input; that is the only way infinite growth can be fudged, cranially. In reality, of course, it cannot be fudged, any more than perpetual motion is possible. We can sum up that diagram (and all the other post-Samuelson versions peddled by economics) as: A falsehood.

Compounding narrative failures

Atop the false perpetual-growth narrative, we built others. Human Rights, for instance; a totally invalid concept without population curtailment and/or without linking to resource and energy availability. Child Poverty, for another; again dependent on population and resource/energy availability. Child Poverty is really: Child lack of access to energy and resources. Only via belief in ‘money’ (keystroke-created debt that we issue in more quantity than the remaining planet can underwrite), could we believe we could achieve universal Rights or alleviate Poverty, without population control.

Another knock-on failure is the generally-held notion that we ‘make money’. Actually, we are establishing a socially-agreed claim to a portion of the resources and energy coming into the Economic System box (from the left, figure 1). This could be done in other ways, as long as there is supply to match the demand!

More true narrative

The ability of a finite planet to supply resources (including fossilised energy resources) was inevitably going to peak, then decline. This was going to be exaggerated by our tendency to go for the best, first, which means that every ‘next’ option becomes ‘worse’. Remaining minerals will be more dispersed, remaining energy options will deliver less work. Thus we enter a Red Queen trend; where we run ever-faster just to stay on the same spot. Then we go backwards….. 

Rock, meet hard place

True sustainability means being able to go on near-indefinitely. Clearly, our very recent growth-based-on-resource-draw-down regime does not qualify as sustainable. This tells us that it will end anyway, which tells us we are better replacing it while we still have maneuvering-room. So far, so obvious.

What we need to do is ascertain how much draw-down the planet can support – including ascertaining how much biodiversity we need to maintain or enhance. Then we can ascertain how much (in the way of resources and energy) we want per head; noting as we do, that only an egalitarian society can hope to have that discussion. That will lead to an optimum population figure; simple arithmetic really; shouldn’t be too hard. Luckily academia has been there; Victoria University held a two-weekend symposium on this very issue…..in April 1972. They wouldn’t have dropped such an important ball, surely?

False narratives and invalid histories

In reality, humankind is already grossly overshot. In reality, lifetimes are too long and remaining resource-stocks too depleted, to resolve this peacefully; thus too-many of us will fight over ‘what’s left’. To do that, we have to disparage ‘others’, which begs the question: Is the recent crescendo of anti-terrorism, anti-hate-speech, and pro-prior-indigenous comment, a form of denial? Of avoidance?

This resource-warring probability needs to be contextualized; which means re-writing history. Most wars are fought over energy and resources; most initiatives likewise. Lebensraum fur Herrenvolk, Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, Cape-to-Cairo railway, Belt and Road; they’re all the same thing; resource-sucks from a repressed periphery, to a powerful centre. To excuse ourselves for winning, we write that the ‘others’ we defeated, were ‘bad’. Thus Lebensraum becomes ‘those dratted Nazis’ (who wouldn’t have existed but for the angst within Weimar Germany). Thus WMD, excusing ‘our’ control of Iraqi oil. Others are labelled ‘terrorist’, ‘communist’; anything to ostracize, anything to denigrate; but gagging the name-calling cannot gag the overshoot predicament. Are you listening, Prime Minister?

Looking back, looking forward

It is clear that narratives the world over, are disintegrating. The drivers are disenfranchisement, angst, and attempts to define ‘self’. Those in turn, are driven by overpopulation, overconsumption and overpollution. Some societies are reverting to mediaeval forms; feudalism and religion-based repression. Some are going rapidly down a Woke rabbit-hole (in NZ, a large part of the Left, parts of the media and academia) by way of self-excuse-slash-virtue-signalling. Polarisation (Other-ising, by any other name) is rife and rising; farmer vs urban, green vs development, race vs race, rentier vs renter, old vs young. The once-standard narrative of owning a house and raising children in it, is being replaced with a rainbow of self-justifying personal explanations as the disenfranchised seek to make sense of their lives. 

No cultural narrative is true; all are largely self-justification. Seeing other cultures through rose-coloured glasses (the Beatles/Maharishi, the Woke brigade/pre-Treaty Maori) is of no assistance when de-constructing an overshot culture back to sustainable levels. Grasping other cranially-convenient narratives on the way down (that we can all live happily ever after if we just swap to EVs or some Green New Deal or MMT-type financial construct)   will be a waste of the remaining energy, the remaining resources, the remaining capacity of the planet to absorb, and most of all; the remaining time. All of which we are running out of.

Currently, we are witnessing exponentially-increasing competition for acreage. This has the ability to distort values of everything from food to timber; a totally predictable result of us using the planet faster than it can regenerate. There is no valid growth narrative, from here on in. We have to concoct another, before this one collapses. 

We need to look ahead in a Systems manner, using integrated science; not of the techno-optimistic kind, but of the ‘we have to go with proven technologies’ kind. We need to construct a new narrative; one not woven around extraction, consumption and excretion of finite and/or limited resources. We need to look at what worked for indigenous cultures – and what didn’t. We need to ask what a less-energised society can keep, what it must discard, and what it can triage. In short, we need to chart a pathway from HERE to THERE.

What we need is clear leadership; clearly stating the problem, clearly putting systems in place to address them. For that we appear to have the heart; we do not appear – yet - to have the head. FDR did it with his fireside chats, Churchill with ‘Blood, toil, tears and sweat’, Ghandi and Mandela by sheer force of intellect. It can be done. It must be done. Are you listening, Prime Minister?

The new narrative will be longer in vision (seven generations hence, was one old indigenous yardstick). It will have to be more egalitarian; there is no other way to ration finite resources without angst. It will no double reverse some growth-era trends; city-folk going back to the land and food-production, for instance. Energy will be the new gold – as H.G. Wells (and others) predicted long ago. Triage – repurposing – of existing infrastructure will, for a while, be a major activity. Growth-based finance will only be found in the history-books; if of course we are still intact enough to write them. Globalism has already peaked, and will decline then collapse. Perhaps war(s) will interrupt that process, or even precede it.

It is important to note that every past civilisation has declined or fallen, and that for the first time the possibility of decline/collapse is global in scope. It is therefore essential that our narrative becomes based on fact. It will be an interesting time. We need to approach it wisely, we need to do the science, we need to listen to the science. We need to recognise cultural narratives for what they are: self-justifying stories. And those are the last thing we need, approaching this next, very different, phase of human existence.

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66 Comments

That is powerdownkiwi (PDK).

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You beat me to it, I was going to say "Is that you PDK?"

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Hard to disagree with these comments I'm sure PDK will be cheering this peice. Unfortunately greed rules supreme in our world currently closely followed by self interest and stupidity.  This should be taught at school so the next generation get a more balanced view enabling change from the bottom up. 

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Pretty sure PDK is the author, so yeah, he's most probably cheering the piece....

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Those taking any notice can feel the vice tightening. Those old enough to remember anyhow.

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Show us your numbers.

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Take a look at the growth rate of the world population. I found that off my own back, Murray had some input into my curiosity. But to be quite frank, by posing that question you probably lack the curiousity & intuition to make the leaps of understanding required.

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Take a look at the projected growth rate of population after about 2050

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Accurate numeric calculations aren't about intuition. There were no numbers or rational calculations in this article. Instead there is speculation, emotive language, and faith.

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DM - the biggest article of faith - and missing numbers - are the lack of inputs to the second diagram. Somewhat akin to pie in the sky when you die....

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Dave, if you want some numbers in this area Tom Murphy has written an excellent book detailing pretty much everything. Freely available here https://escholarship.org/uc/item/9js5291m

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Look basically people don't care. We are on the planet for a blink of an eyelid when compared to the millions of years it took us to get to this point. All most people are interested in is having a great time, not a long time while they are on Planet earth. Even the ones that can see the writing on the wall are really only a bunch of hypocrites as they jet set around the world to discuss climate change. Your not going to start riding your bicycle to work in the wet and cold with it blowing a gale to try and save the planet while the neighbor continues to roll out in his warm and dry V8. The shit will hit the fan one day, its unavoidable due to human nature. Party like its 1999.

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I agree with your first sentence, but not your last.

There is a huge discontent with those that are happy with their way of living and want to save the planet and those whose main goal is trying to scrape together enough to feed and shelter themselves today, next week, save enough for retirement etc.

Who gives a %*$& about the future of the planet when your basic needs are not being met today.

For some, like Al Gore, it's living in a 10,000m2 house, private jets, etc. while telling you, ie everyone lower on the wealth ladder, it's your fault.

It's the same disconnect you see for many in support for Covid lockdowns when their income has not been affected, and in some cases has benefited from lockdown vs those that have lost their jobs or businesses that can see the writing on the wall for their businesses collapse.

And that most people, including the Govt. expect in return for following their Covid plan that we can go back to doing exactly what we were doing for Covid, including all the hypocrisy. 

We have no Govt. strategy regarding our immigration policy, or land policy to enable affordable housing, Even when immigration is now low, we have huge non-value added costs added to housing prices, which most of is in non-value-added costs, which is just another name for poor use of economic resources resulting in an increase in costs that add no extra amenity value, ie waste. Over 1/3rd of the value of your house is a cost that could be removed and you would have the same house at that lower price.

We are surrounded by overconsumption and waste, and the highest price that can be extracted from us, and it's all lead from the top.

 

 

 

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I enjoyed the article. The one thing I don't quantitatively understand is why we've "overshot"? We are already seeing human populations look like they will peak and decline, possibly quite rapidly given plummeting birthrates. We have some energy options like nuclear (uranium, plutonium, thorium etc.) and some renewables along side a few moonshots (e.g. fission.) In many ways it appears we are, very belatedly, hobbling towards a more sustainable future.

Outside of sub-Saharan Africa the world will be too old for conflicts within half a generation and the remaining working age population too valuable to risk. Growing up during the cold war I always thought the end of our civilisation would be a boom but now it seems more likely it will be a whimper.

 

I met a traveller from an antique land,

Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;

And on the pedestal, these words appear:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

-Ozymandias, Percy Shelley.

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Murray has always assiduously ignored two sources of energy - nuclear and chemical - which are existing, well-used and are not remotely linked to insolation.  Both stem from the properties of matter itself, and are ubiquitous in nature: Earth's core temperature comes from radioactive decay, and the Big Yellow Sky Thing is a reactor.  So a curiously blinkered epistle....

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Earth's core the comes from radioactive decay? Not heard that before. 

 

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Murray has always assiduously ignored two sources of energy - nuclear and chemical - which are existing, well-used and are not remotely linked to insolation.  Both stem from the properties of matter itself, and are ubiquitous in nature: Earth's core temperature comes from radioactive decay, and the Big Yellow Sky Thing is a fusion reactor.  So a curiously blinkered epistle....

DP, IT fail, apologies.....

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One to bookmark. The rantings will flow, though they won't change the facts. 

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As long as there has been culture, there have been prophets of doom.

For each previous civilization they've been right eventually, although the timing and reasons for the fall are usually well off the mark.

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The only issue I have with these types of theories is the assumption that we already know everything there is to know about 'energy'.

And if the history is humanity is anything to go by, the people of 100 years prior appear relatively primitive in their thinking and so why should it be any different in 2121...100 years from now when we develop new, cleaner, more sustainable forms of energy?

Heck we don't even understand matter yet and it's a pretty key part of E=MC2.

 

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Develop? That's like 'produce'. They're incorrect descriptions. All you can develop is technology, not energy itself. There has to be a source and it has to be EROEI positive. Indeed, if it's doing all the work, it needs to be better than 11:1. Better still, 20:1. That rules out sieving thorium......

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EROEI is a bit of a useless metric because the biggest source of energy (i.e the sun) is free and abundant.

As long as the EROEI is greater than 1 for a given system, it is making enough energy to replace itself and provide a surplus for other uses, such as setting up another system, which can then be used to set up another etc etc.

More useful is the setup and running cost per unit of net energy output.

 

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Free and abundant. Well yes, but you left out diffuse? The means to transform that diffuse energy into something useful is not free and in some cases not that abundant either.

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That's why the EROEI needs to be greater than 1. 

Take a look at the total energy usage of civilisation vs the energy that arrives to earth from the sun each day. We use about an hours worth of total solar in a year.

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I think you will find an EROEI of just over 1 will not support any sort of complex society. All your energy is used to obtain more energy. Nothing left to build infrastructure.  Cost is irrelevant. You can print as many dollars as you like, if the the energy you seek to source, is using more energy to produce than you can recover from your efforts, you will starve! Dollar notes are neither energy nor food.

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Just over one, yes it would be very difficult. Around 3-4 would be reasonably easy.

Dollars as a means of exchange are just a useful way to compare the relative value of resources. It's basically just an intermediate step in bartering. If something is cheap it usually means it's abundant and easily accessible. 

And yes if too much money is printed, inflation would make it worth little over time. However it would still be useful for relative values at a given point in time 

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Can you explain how a system based on a eroei of 1.5 would be the same as one based on an eroei of 20 or 100?

It's all about SURPLUS energy. When eroei is 20+ you can do a lot more extra stuff. At 1.5, not so much = problem for economy and infrastructure

Our society was built using and for an eroei much greater than 1...

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EROEI is a ratio, not a total. The support of society is much more about total energy needs than the efficency of processing.

As long as you recover more energy than you used to set up the system (EROEI > 1) you are going forwards.

It doesn't really matter how much sunlight we use, it doesn't cost anything. 

I would concede a system with an EROEI close to 1 is likely to result in very expensive energy due to the high proportion of capital costs.

Once you get around EROEI of 3-4 the gains from there upwards would be smaller increments.

At 1.1 system efficency the capital cost would account for about 90% of the energy cost.

At 3:1 capital cost would be about 30%

At 50:1 the capital cost would be about 2%, so a cost reduction of about 28%.

I don't think a ~30% increase in energy costs will sink society.

 

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Sure, but getting to the total required is that much harder when the eroei is low. Fossil fuels have given us a massive blip of surplus energy. Replacing that with solar is going to be very difficult.

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How does utilising to power of the Sun cost nothing? You are caught up subscribing to the lack of externalities narrative.  There is definitely cost involved in harnessing the power of the Sun for most of our modern technologies to exist, unless you are happy to return to a Stone Age, low tech, medieval society.

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If you think sunlight costs something, I have some to sell you

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Put it this way PDK - if you go back 200 years ago and asked someone to 'develop' a bomb with enough energy to destroy entire states (nuclear bomb), those people would say - how the %#@# do I do that?

But now, we can 'develop' such a thing with so much 'energy' and with a push of the button, we can destroy the earth. We have 'developed' that much energy that 200 year ago, would have argued wasn't possible.

Who is to say that in another 200 years our understanding of physics and matter and energy is exponentially higher than it is today - meaning that what we are able to create/develop, with less harm to the environment and in a sustainable fashion, is beyond our current level of thinking/consciousness.

Perhaps you mistakenly think that you already have all of the information/knowledge that man is ever going to have - and therefore nobody else is going to have a higher level of thinking than you personally.

I know that people in the future are going to be smarter than me and have vastly more information available to them to 'develop' new technology. Therefore I am optimistic about our future as species, as opposed to pessimistic because I ignorantly think I already know what is going to happen in the future based upon today's limited level of understanding and thinking and human consciousness.

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Technology and human ingenuity will (somehow) exceed the limits imposed by nature.  It's called a 'weak' sustainability view in the ecology literature.  I see it more as hope - and of course I want my children and grandchildren to have hope, so it's a very enticing view.  Hard to break away from.

And yeah, maybe it will.  But we have to work with what we know now, because the problems are upon us now.  Things/societies in general are falling apart - for example, what percentage of humanity is marching/migrating seeking resources because their 'world' is at the end of civilization?  Why do we have high suicide rates; high crime rates; high levels of incarceration?  Because we don't know how to share the resources such that everyone's basic needs are met.  Technology isn't going to 'save' us from those problems.  

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I think its much more important to focus on understanding what we don't know - because history tells us that we know very little at that times present point of consciousness.

500 years ago 99% of the population believed earth was the centre of the universe and that witches were real. In another 500 years, unless we regress once more into another 'dark age', how unintelligent are ignorant are we going to be viewed by future consciousness? And most likely using energy sources that we don't even know exist yet.

We take for granted that we've been driving in cars and flying in planes - yet that is one second on the clock of human history. Who knows what we will develop in the coming hour.

 

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Interesting philosophy. But, in focusing on what we don't know makes an assumption that someday someone will know/discover something that means my current footprint - what I took and consumed or threw away - won't matter in the long-run.

It's a bit like neo-liberal economic 'tickle down' theory, but in the forward, as opposed to the current - that idea that, everyone benefits from globalisation, i.e., the current 'economic system' (or as Murray calls it, the narrative) in the long-run.

It ain't happenin' to my mind. 

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I hardly think that splitting the atom or discovering that earth is not the centre of the universe should be considered philosophy.

Is modern medicine a philosophy also - including the COVID vaccine - which without, potentially hundreds of millions of people would have been killed on the plant in the last and coming years.

Science is allowing humanity to support higher and higher populations..

Is that a good thing - I don't think so. But is it happening...yes. Isn't that proof...and not just a philosophy?

(and don't get me started on neoliberal economics...)

 

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Playing devil's advocate... what if we don't make any more progress energy wise?

 

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For that to occur, armageddon would have to be upon us...say nuclear war or we take a hit from an asteroid. Or somehow and oppressive force takes over the world and shuts down universities and free thought.

What do you think the chances are of that happening? If you meditate upon that for a while, I think you will have your answer.

Not that with a higher population, we now also have more nodes (human brains) on the network thinking about how to better understand everything which increases our ability to make new breakthroughs.

For that trend to reverse...something very bad will have to happen - want to live your life in that state of pessimism? Be my guest...

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For future generation's sake I really hope you're right. I prefer to "hope for the best, prepare for the worst"

Maybe AI will figure out a way of using quantum theory to power stuff...?

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Look at it this way....E=MC2.

And we don't even know what M is yet.

If Einstain is right - there is a massive amount of energy capacity in the world....look at the mass we have....so therefore we need to better understand the M part of that equation.

If and when we do, the means of producing energy in the future we probably have no concept of yet...it will be like trying to explain nuclear fusion to a guy who have lived in a cave in the year 10,000BC.

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Could be it was already understood by ancient civilisations, and Tesla (the human not the company. 

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"Not that with a higher population, we now also have more nodes (human brains) on the network thinking about how to better understand everything which increases our ability to make new breakthroughs."

You realise that the major population increases are in the third world, where the majority don't have the opportunities for education, that the backwards growing first world does, right?

An externality of global capital hoarding wealth and distributing it up, into the hands of the first worlds greedy elite, instead of down to those abundant new nodes. The consequences of global inequality is brought to those areas so actual potential growth in knowledge rarely sees light.

Also you forget that the hoarding of IP and the patent system which prevents so much knowledge from being utilised where it's needed most, and is holding humanity back by stalling further innovation and invention.

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Bingo.  The 'all the time in the world to fix it' narrative is strong.  Always ignoring then current consequences of past and present externalities on imminent (several decades from now NOT 200 years) collapse.

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Depends from what level of thinking/consciousness we're creating/developing from.

If it's anything at the level as now I don't have much hope for humanity.

It would appear that at the current level we're doing more harm than good. Oh, there's a lot of virtue signaling, green capitalism and all that. 

One example of the disconnect is where the "market" and its new technology is gearing up to produce social robots. Is that because our current consciousness does not value, nor can provide human connection. 

Maybe it's not about expanding our understanding of physics and matter.

Maybe consciousness is about bringing life back into being alive. Not turning everything into robots.

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"If it's anything at the level as now I don't have much hope for humanity"

Right so we just developed a vaccine for a deadly virus in a matter of months and saved the lives of 10's or 100's of millions of people who would have otherwise died.

Say go back to 1917 spanish flu. We knew very little...50 million died. Today, we might get away with less than 5 million deaths despite our population now being exponentially higher than it was then.

I get the feeling people have been in lockdown far to long........

 

 

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Yeah I don't agree that this covid experience and people being hyped by fear is a very good example of expanded consciousness.

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Right - but you just got jabbed in the arm with a vaccine which at any other point in human history (state of human knowledge and consciousness) wouldn't have happened and hundreds of millions of people would have died. And we wouldn't even be arguing about it the issue from different parts of the world via a thing called the internet...but instead would have been off to chase and stab a wild animal then get home before the wolves or sabertooth tigers ate us and the fire went out...

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They didn't develop mRNA technology in months.  It's been "in development" since modern medical science has existed; decades specifically for mRNA vaccine prototypes themselves; progress through iteration.  They actually developed the COVID19 mRNA vaccines in less than one month, because the DNA sequence was shared by China and combined with those previous decades of prototype development.  The delay in time to market was all about effective clinical trails, peer review and therapeutic authorisation.

https://covid19.nih.gov/news-and-stories/vaccine-development

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I don't trust anyone that uses the word narrative.

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Not including your good self, of course? ;-)

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Lol

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Any other words in the English language that don't meet with your approval?

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The new narrative will be longer in vision (seven generations hence, was one old indigenous yardstick). It will have to be more egalitarian; there is no other way to ration finite resources without angst.

I'm still pondering the possibilities of this suggestion as a means to move toward egalitarianism and hence, ration finite resources (with a lesser amount of societal disruption/angst?);

https://vimeo.com/514851915?fbclid=IwAR0G4K2uXvt1k1aiWpBhrTiycqrYr6K4tUCe271J3oaTlXktIXxZL33iCk4

I'd be interested in others thoughts.

 

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One way to achieve that would be to force govt/companies to use a different discount rate for assessing future costs and benefits. The problem there is that there is always a statistical chance that future generations may not exist (asteroid, war etc) so current generations don't like doing that...

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Hmmm, do you mean something like adding a carbon emissions scheme to the economic system?  Funny that, the last Australian Labor government tried it and yeah, emissions started dropping during the period they were in place. Of course as soon as they took power the conservative LNP government removed it.  Strange how those who profit most off ignoring the externalities, somehow are always the most active ones fighting to continue having them ignore, isn't it?

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My first question - could we define what we consider to be 'finite resources'?
 

From my perspective, the only finite resource is the sun and the length of an individual human consciousness (although our ability to record and communicate information is getting around this second issue that our ancestors had - meaning we all had to keep making the same mistakes as our parents and had limited capacity to evolve....but we can now 'stand on the shoulders of giants' each and every moment with the technology we have).

But when the sun dies, we die. That is our energy. E=MC2. If light is gone...energy is gone.

What is it that we are worried we are going to run out of that is considered finite? Is it breathable air or drinkable water or some other 'thing'?

Or do people assume the way that have lived their lives the last 40 years is 'normal' and haven't considered how 'abnormal' its really been?

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In a closed loop system like earth - do 'finite' resources some how leave the planet?

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The Club of Rome commissioned a report in the late 1960s that established there are real limits to growth. We are still on the overshoot path set out in that report, as confirmed by reviews of the modelling against reality in the early 1990s, 2000s and in the last decade.

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Agreed. The problem of dispersed materials, is the energy required to collect them. Copper now requires 400 tons of 'overburden' (an economists description for soil, microbes etc) to get at a ton of copper, where it once took the removal of 10 tons. Every graph goes the same way. That's why we don't mine landfills, will never sieve the sea for thorium, will never do many things. And will start triaging many things, as we start down the de-growth side of the graph.

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Recommend Dr Wiliam Rees recent videos updating club of rome on youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9oVTHKzC7TM

 

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The real deal, and I warn you with sincerity, is that we are progressing at the worst case scenario for global warming (IPCC RCP8.5) and this means most likely option is 1.5 degrees warming by 2030 and incredibly 2 degrees by 2040. As such the IPCC is asking for a 50% global emissions reduction by 2030 which is a huge but doable ask. 50% emissions reduction would have corresponding reduction in GDP (e.g. 40% tbc) though can involve getting rid of harmful gdp like fossil fuel use. Unlikely we will actually reduce emissions that much - emissions have risen over last 30 years.
So Degrowth is the solution, if we don't degrow we will lock in horrific warming over 3 degrees this century which is hard to comprehend the harm- witness the damage this year at 1.1 degrees warming.
Please read the article- leading Climate Scientist Dr James Hansen- lays out the rapid temp increases coming with climate feedback loops, aerosol reduction from reduced pollution etc.
https://insideclimatenews.org/news/15092021/global-warming-james-hansen… 

 

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It's great to see an article like this published on a finance website of all places.

My reservations with Grimwood's article are twofold:

1.) Grimwood takes a 'Planet of the Human's' type outlook on population, inferring that there are too many of us and we need a 'plan' to reduce our numbers. Population planning is not needed, not when we have the answers as to how to naturally lower the birth rate: In his 1980s published book *Nutrition Against Disease*, Roger J Williams, amongst myriad other topics, suggests and charts a strong correlation between adequate nutrition (quality protein consumption) and birthrate. The better people can feed themselves, the fewer children they will have.

Further, explaining that that the fundamental building blocks of biological life are shared commonly, he draws comparison between the stress response of fruit trees (place them under stress and they will produce a bumper crop before dying) and the mammalian sexual response, using post WW2 'baby-boomer' numbers as an example: simply put, place us humans under a great deal of stress, and we seem to produce more children.

The solution? It is, counter-intuitively, to house, feed, and water everyone well and to stabilise our societies such that people are placed under less extreme stress.

I know what you will say now: if only we could 'house, feed and water' everyone well: there's not enough to go around!!! I beg to differ: read on.

2.) In his 1981 publication, Critical Path, Buckminster Fuller puts forth his theory of everything and more. A fundamental theme in the book though is that 'Humanity can make it', the 20th century, marking in his opinion, the first time in human history that our technological know-how is such that the basic needs of all humans can be met. Mass produced highly efficient housing, highly efficient cities, aerodynamic vehicles, dry-waste-packaging (intended for composting) toilets: he covered it all. Being a numbers man, he invented the 'world game', a simulation where people can play with numbers and inventories, and see how we can make life on Earth work for all.

Some interesting facts that come out of Critical Path are that:

a.) The amount of scrap metals in circulation means that no more mining is necessary (p. 205)

b.) That the technology existed, then in 1981, such that advanced scrubbers could be fitted to the inside of industrial smoke stacks, such that all components of the 'waste' (just resources as Fuller rightly points out) can be captured and reused.

An interesting idea put forth by Fuller - in line with Grimwood's comment that 'Energy will be the new gold' - is a global energy currency and a interconnected global energy grid. When one hemisphere of the Earth is bathed in solar energy, it can supply the other, and vice versa...

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Great post. Fuller is one of my heroes, for his lateral thinking capability. But he got a lot wrong (and I don't decry him for that, quite the contrary; better to think than to chant mantra).

The problem is the energy required to do the collating and the scrubbing and the solar-collection. At the level we're running, that is impossible with renewables. See: https://ourfiniteworld.com/2007/07/02/speech-from-1957-predicting-peak-…  for someone who got the physics. Also the Mearns link: http://euanmearns.com/eroei-for-beginners/

And population-wise, we levered our muscles with fossil energy, and used it to lever the biosphere. That rendered our overshottedness not just local numbers overrunning local habitat, but global numbers drawing-down global habitat, including underground acreage (never before done). That was a collection of full bank-accounts, natural-capital-wise. We have drawn them down at exponentially-increasing rates. Only one way that ends; overshoot and collapse.

This is the discussion we are overdue having - go well (while you can :)

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