Mother Pelican
A Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability

Vol. 13, No. 6, June 2017
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
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Strategies for Solidarity and Sustainability


This page attempts to provide a synthesis of principles and strategies for the transition to a world of solidarity and sustainability.

1. Primacy of Integral Human Development
2. Joint Integrity of Humanity and the Human Habitat
3. Mitigation of Habitat Degradation & Climate Change
4. Adaptation to Habitat Degradation & Climate Change
5. Solidarity, Subsidiarity, Sustainability, and Nonviolence
6. Non-Renewable & Renewable Energy Resources
7. Simulation Scenarios of the Transition to Sustainability
8. Variations of the Integrated Transition Strategy
9. Strategic Data Sources & Global Transition Megatrends

Simulation Scenarios of the Transition to Sustainability

The key working hypothesis is that the transition from consumerism to sustainability will revolve around the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy, and this transition will come to pass whether we like it or not. However, the amount of human suffering during this process will depend on human adaptability and social cohesion. The simulations are not meant to be predictive but to show a range of plausible scenarios.

SDSIM2BAU19003900SI298.jpg Solidarity reinforces Sustainability and vice versa
The horizontal and vertical scales are not shown in order to avoid giving the impression that this is a prediction. This is a simulated scenario, not a prediction. It portrays dynamic modes of system behavior that can be expected during the transition from consumerism to sustainability, as follows:

~ Population, production, and consumption peak, stagnate and/or oscillate with downward trend, and eventually decrease to long-term sustainable levels.
~ The peak in energy availability is followed by a long decline until it settles to the steady-state flow that is allowed by solar (and perhaps other cosmic) sources of energy.
~ The solidarity index is an indicator of social cohesion, which is tightly coupled with the sustainability of resource usage.

This is not intended to be an "alarmist" scenario. However, it would be wise to take the Precautionary Principle into account when formulation sustainable development policies as we enter the Anthropocene Age. Widespread violence is bound to emerge if demographic and consumption adjustments are to be made involuntarily. Is this "the future we want" for the entire community of nations? NB: The current SDSIM 2.0 is a demo, not a capability.


1. Primacy of Integral Human Development

Pope Francis Explains 'Integral Human Development'

Nicolas Senèze

Originally published in
La Croix, 5 April 2017
Republished with the kind permission of La Croix

Addressing participants at a conference on Paul VI’s encyclical “Populorum Progressio", Pope Francis explained the various dimensions that need to be “integrated” into a holistic concept of development.

Pope Francis traced the road map for the new Vatican dicastery on integral human development on Tuesday, April 4.

He did this by offering his own interpretation of the concept launched by Paul VI in his encyclical Populorum Progressio, which was published 50 years ago.

“It was he who set out in detail the meaning of ‘integral development’ in that encyclical and it was he who proposed the apt and synthetic formula 'the development of the whole man and of every man'," the pope told the participants at an international conference in Rome onPopulorum Progressio.

He insisted on the word “integrate", which “I hold dear", Francis said.

“It is about integrating the various peoples of the earth,” he began, emphasizing “the duty of solidarity that obliges us to seek fair ways of sharing".

In the pope’s view, integrating also involves “offering effective models of social integration".

“Everyone has a contribution to make to the whole of society, everyone has something particular to offer that could enable people to live together. No one may be excluded from contributing to the good of all,” he continued.

However, the pope emphasized that it is also necessary “to integrate into development all the elements that make it genuinely so", including the various systems involved such as “the economy, finance, work, culture, family culture, and religion".

Integrating the individual and communal dimensions

“None of these can be absolutized and none of them can be excluded from a conception of integral human development that gives consideration to the fact that human life is like an orchestra which only performs well if all the various instruments are in tune and follow a common score,” the pope noted.

From this perspective, the pope pointed to the need to “integrate the individual and communal dimensions". He added that western culture “has exalted the individual to the point of turning him or her into an island as if he or she could be happy alone".

On the other hand, “ideological visions and political authorities have crushed the person, standardized it and deprived it of that freedom without which man no longer feels like a man", the pope said.

Integrating body and soul

In Pope Francis’s view, “such a standardization also involves economic forces that wish to profit from globalization rather than promoting a fairer sharing among people simply in order to impose a global market over which they themselves dictate the rules and from which they draw profit".

Addressing the conference, which took place in the Synod Hall at the Vatican, the pope also insisted on the need “to integrate body and soul"; that is, to promote a form of development that “does not consist simply of making ever more goods available for a purely material well-being.”

“Integral development... does no wrong to either God or man since it anticipates the consistency of both dimensions,” Pope Francis stated.

He added that the concept of the person, which was “born in and developed by Christianity helps to pursue fully human development".

“This is because the word ‘person’ always implies ‘relationship', rather than ‘individualism’", the pope concluded, outlining the major fields of action for the new dicastery that he created at the beginning of this year.

Concept of Integral Human Development


Integral Human Development is an expression based upon the truth that human development cannot be reduced or divorced into constituent parts. True progress does not and cannot happen, if only one aspect of the human person is being addressed to this end.

Source: Catholic Social Teaching in Action

Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs
Adapted from Wikipedia
As a matter of principle, any strategy for the transition to clean energy must recognize integral human development as the most fundamental requirement to guide both public and private initiatives. Integral human development builds on respect for human rights and diligence on human duties, both individually and institutionally. A fundamental document is The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, approved by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948.

Hierarchy of Human Needs

Abraham Maslow (USA, 1908-1970) created the "hierarchy of human needs" in the 1940s. Maslow's model explicitly takes into account the physiological, safety, emotional, love/belonging, esteem/self-esteem, and self-actualization stages of integral human development. The hierarchy of human needs is usually represented as a pyramid, with the most basic needs at the bottom and the socialization needs at the top. There are many variations of the pyramid: one is shown to the right and others can be easily found. Going upward, the progression for each human being is to satisfy (1) the basic physical and physiological needs, (2) the need for safety and security, (3) the need psychological well-being, (4) the need for self-actualization (self-esteem, social responsibility), and (5) self-giving to others, or at least the desire to seek the common good in conjunction with legitimate self-interest. For further discussion of Maslow's "levels of human development" - and other models of human development - the reader is referred to the May 2010 issue of Mother Pelican. Attaining a culture of solidarity and sustainability is practically impossible under level 3, and generally requires level 4. This means that enabling people "to live to their full potential" requires, beyond meeting basic physical needs, access to educational and job opportunities as well as freedom for each person follow their "vocation" in life under conditions of human solidarity, social justice, and ecological sustainability. It is becoming increasingly difficult to provide such opportunities in the context of current population growth trends.


World Population Prospects
United Nations, July 2015

Global Fertility Rates, UN 2015
"The current world population of 7.3 billion is expected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030, 9.7 billion by 2050, and 11.2 billion in 2100, according to a United Nations report released today. The revised U.N. estimates counter previous projections, which had said that global population would peak at roughly 9 billion by 2050, then gradually decline. Most growth will occur in developing regions, the new report says, especially Africa, which is expected to account for more than half of the world’s population growth between 2015 and 2050. India is expected to become the most populous country, surpassing China around 2022. Nigeria could surpass the United States by 2050, which would make it the third-largest country in the world, the U.N. projects. “The concentration of population growth in the poorest countries presents its own set of challenges, making it more difficult to eradicate poverty and inequality,” said John Wilmoth, a director in the U.N.’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs." Source: Environment 360, Yale University, 29 July 2015

2016 Human Development Report:
Human Development for Everyone

UNDP, 21 March 2017

Other 2016 Human Development Reports

Human Development Data (1980-2015)

Population and the Environment:
How Do Law and Policy Respond?

Environmental Law Institute, March/April 2017

2. Joint Integrity of Humanity and the Human Habitat

The Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere,
the Arts, and the Humanities

Paul Ehrlich

Originally published by
Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere
23 March 2017
under a Creative Commons License

A garden full of books by Janaina C. Falkiewicz | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

One question I am often asked is how the humanities can help out with the MAHB and other efforts to avoid a collapse of civilization. Analysts usually agree, based on the record of public education in evolution and climate disruption, that providing people with scientifically sound information does not move popular opinion very much. This is especially true if the conclusions indicate a need for social change, new thinking, or sacrifice.  I think the role that can be played by the arts is clear to most people; the impact of photographs on thinking about the environment has been enormous (the iconic first picture of Earth from outer space being the classic example).

When being interviewed about On the Nature of Things, the ecology-science dance show that Karole Armitage and I put together in 2015, I was often asked why I thought the humanities, in addition to the arts, could help solve the human predicament.  The answer is purely based on my likes and personal observations, not on “scientific” evidence.  I usually use a famous Abe Lincoln story to exemplify the potential impact of literature.  When the President was introduced during the Civil War to Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, he greeted her with “So you’re the little woman who started this big war!”

The potential contribution of photography is clear.  For instance, one of my valued colleagues, distinguished neurobiologist Sue McConnell, has been very concerned about the loss of biodiversity.  She became a superb photographer and has been teaching conservation photography to students.  No one can see a display of her elephant photos and not feel closer to and more sympathetic with those magnificent animals.  On the possible role of music, I think back to my World War II childhood experience with martial music.  Does the environmental movement need the equivalent of the Marine’s Hymn?  Could the music world produce a song to express the tragic loss of biodiversity with the impact of Lili Marlene?

Philosophy, ethics, history, music, art, and so on are often lumped into the humanities, but here I’d like to say something about literature and poetry.  I think both can be extremely helpful to thinking about the human predicament –and in constructing narratives that could have emotional impact and deepen understanding of what the dangers we face really mean. Such an understanding by the public at large is a critical prerequisite to addressing and solving our existential problems.

One of the pleasures of my life has always been reading, a wonderful way to expand one’s experiences.  I read all the time and listen to recorded books as I walk and wait in airports and doctor’s offices.  It’s often technical tomes or histories, especially histories about the two World Wars (which I’ve long viewed as two acts of the same historical event).  I think one learns a lot about human behavior when it is behavior under stress.  I also read novels, especially those based on accurate historical material or showing interesting human behavior.  Many have been both a great pleasure to read and useful sources of information.  I remember well how reading Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, like the original movie, decades ago altered my view of war. I’ve never forgotten what the protagonist (okay, a butterfly collector named Paul!) said when he returned on leave and found his old teacher trying to persuade more young boys to enlist.

Mary Doria Russell’s Epitaph introduced me to life and “development” in the old West in realistic depth, as Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers did for slum life in modern India.  My favorite novel of all time, Michael Shaara’s Killer Angels evoked pathos over the careers of Civil War officers.  Wilbur Smith’s The Burning Shore gave me a feel for the culture of San Bushmen in South Africa,  Smith’s page-turning narrative A Time to Die changed my thinking on southern African politics and conflict, filling in details of what I was first introduced to in 1966 traveling through Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique) while the Portuguese army was fighting the Frelimo liberation movement, and visiting Southern Rhodesia (and committing a capital crime by criticizing Ian Smith’s government).  Recently I was reading our friend Bob Carr’s Diary of a Foreign Minister (he was Premier of New South Wales for 11 years and greatly interested in the environment before becoming Australia’s foreign minister) and discovered that he was also a fan of novelist Alan Furst.  Furst’s gripping novels taught me more about the run-up to World War II than any history text ever has. One of my greatest regrets at the prospect of dying is that I’ll never get through all the books stacked by my bed or on my iPad and iPhone.

Many lines from poetry have fit in with my thoughts.  The poet imperialist Rudyard Kipling looked at his beloved British empire, for which his only son John died in the trenches of France, and wrote “Far call’d our navies melt away, on dune and headlands sinks the fire.  Lo all our pomp of yesterday is one with Nineveh and Tyre.”  One with Nineveh became the title of a book Anne and I wrote about the prospective end of our civilization.

I agree with my old acquaintance Vladimir Nabokov that human existence is a “brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness,” and think an “afterlife” is a nonsensical idea.  Nonetheless I take comfort from Housman’s thought: “Clay lies still, but blood’s a rover; breath’s a ware that will not keep.  Up, lad: when the journey’s over there’ll be time enough for sleep.”

We know scientifically that emotional input is required for decision-making.  With part of the frontal lobes that control emotions damaged, a person may have committed to memory the menu of every restaurant in town, but be unable to decide where to eat.  The “rational choice” theory once beloved of most economists and many political scientists is a theory about something that doesn’t exist –as Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky so famously demonstrated long ago.  That emotional input is something that literature and art can provide.

It is, of course, a two-edged sword.  In the absence of adequate supporting information, emotion can steer populations in self-destructive ways, as has happened with the denial of climate disruption by Donald Trump and many Republican politicians, among others.  There is a long history of demagogues leading societies to disaster, as Adolph Hitler demonstrated so dramatically.  So our challenge is to create narratives that will grab people and yet steer civilization toward sustainability, which implies as well a broad discussion and contemplation in literature of the many ethical challenges society now faces.

Which works of literature or poetry have you found particularly rousing?
How do you think these works manage to affect you on an emotional level?
What works are next on your list to dive into?

NOTE: This post is part of the MAHB’s Arts Community space –an open space for MAHB members to share, discuss, and connect with artwork processes and products pushing for change. Please visit the MAHB Arts Community to share and reflect on how art can promote critical changes in behavior and systems and contact Erika with any questions or suggestions you have regarding the space.


Paul Ehrlich is a Professor of Biology and President of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University, and Adjunct Professor at the University of Technology, Sydney. His research interests are in the ecology and evolution of natural populations of butterflies, reef fishes, birds and human beings.

Human development cannot happen in a vacuum. Therefore, maintaining the integrity of the human habitat is essential for sustainable human development. One fundamental document is The Earth Charter, approved by the Earth Charter Commission 29 June 2000 after 5 years of preparation and worldwide consultation. Another fundamental document is the annual Human Development Report of the United Nations, in which the Human Development Index (HDI) is correlated with Ecological Footprint data on a country by country basis, showing that "only a few countries come close to creating such a globally reproducible high level of human development without exerting unsustainable pressure on the planet’s ecological resources." There is an emerging consensus that climate change has become the central issue of human habitat desintegration.



Sustainable Development and Population Dynamics: Placing People at the Centre, Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, UNFPA, 19 June 2013

Humans: The Real Threat to Life on Earth, Stephen Emmott, The Observer, 29 June 2013

Rapid Population Booms are a Bust for Government Efficacy, Stephen Norgaard, MAHB, 3 June 2014

Climate change isn’t the problem: A population bomb is killing us, Paul B. Farrell, MarketWatch, 23 September 2014

Natural capital and ecosystem services informing decisions: From promise to practice, Anne Guerry et al, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 16 June 2015


Harnessing the Demographic Dividend

Source: Population Reference Bureau, 20 May 2013

Can Earth's and Society's Systems Meet the Needs of 10 Billion People?
Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: National Research Council
The National Academies Press, 2014.

An expansion of the demographic transition model:
the dynamic link between agricultural productivity and population

Russell Hopfenberg, Biodiversity, 22 October 2014

Fostering Economic Growth, Equity, and Resilience in Sub-Saharan Africa:
The Role of Family Planning

Ishrat Husain, Kaitlyn Patierno, Inday Zosa-Feranil, and Rhonda Smith
Population Reference Bureau, October 2016



Climate models and precautionary measures, Judith Curry, Climate Etc., 5 January 2016

Is nuclear the cheapest way to decarbonize electricity?, Peter Lang, Climate Etc., 19 January 2016

The Trojan Horse of the Paris Climate Agreement: How Multi-Level, Non-Hierarchical Governance Poses a Threat to Constitutional Government, Lucas Bergkamp and Scott J. Stone, SSRN, 20 January 2016

History and the Limits of the Climate Consensus, Philip Jenkins, The American Conservative, 21 January 2016

Undersea volcanoes may be impacting long-term climate change, Alan Longhurst, Climate Etc., 24 January 2016

Making sense of the early 2000’s warming slowdown, John C. Fyfe, Gerald A. Meehl, Matthew H. England, Michael E. Mann, Benjamin D. Santer, Gregory M. Flato, Ed Hawkins, Nathan P. Gillett, Shang-Ping Xie, Yu Kosaka and Neil C. Swart, Nature, 1 February 2016

Some realism about technological fixes, Judith Curry, Climate Etc., 16 February 2016

Walking the climate talk, Judith Curry, Climate Etc., 21 February 2016

What is Energy Security? Definitions and Scenarios, Evan Hillebrand, Climate Etc., 3 March 2016

New Report Says Science Can Estimate Influence of Climate Change on Some Types of Extreme Events, National Academy of Sciences, 11 March 2016

Science and Politics Clash as Humanity Nears Climate Change Tipping Point, Greg M. Schwartz, EcoWatch, 13 March 2016

Attribution of extreme weather events?, Judith Curry, Climate Etc., 14 March 2016

Paris agreement: A risk regulation perspective, Judith Curry, Climate Etc., 28 March 2016

Controversy over comparing models with observations, Judith Curry, Climate Etc., 5 April 2016

The paradox of the climate change consensus, Judith Curry, Climate Etc., 17 April 2016

Updated climate sensitivity estimates, Nick Lewis, Climate Etc., 25 April 2016

Rise in CO2 has greened planet Earth, Judith Curry, Climate Etc., 26 April 2016

A Changing Oil Industry Poses Increasing Climate Risk, Union of Concerned Scientists, 11 May 2016

Is much of our effort to combat global warming actually making things worse?, Judith Curry, Climate Etc., 23 May 2016

Assessment of Approaches to Updating the Social Cost of Carbon, Judith Curry, Climate Etc., 7 June 2016

Climate polarization requires long, deep look at our worldviews, Judith Curry, Climate Etc., 30 June 2016

AMS: Weather, Water and Climate Priorities, Judith Curry, Climate Etc., 18 July 2016

Sea level rise, acceleration and the closure problem, Judith Curry, Climate Etc., 20 July 2016

Frontiers in Decadal Climate Variability, National Academy of Sciences, July 2016

Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Program: The first 20 years, Judith Curry, Climate Etc., 28 July 2016

The art and science of climate model tuning, Frederic Hourdin et al, Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 29 July 2016

The art and science of climate model tuning, Judith Curry, Climate Etc., 1 August 2016

Climate Scientists' New Hurdle: Overcoming Climate Change Apathy, JoAnna Wendel, EOS, 11 August 2016

COP21 & Developing Countries, Robin Guenier, Climate Etc., 16 August 2016

Refocusing the US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), David Wojick, Climate Etc., 29 August 2016

Climate policy: Fake it ’til you make it, Judith Curry, Climate Etc., 30 August 2016

Assessing the causes of early industrial-era warming, Nic Lewis, Climate Etc., 1 September 2016

Politics and the Changing Norms of Science, Lucas Bergkamp, Climate, Etc., 25 October 2016

Climate scientists open up their black boxes to scrutiny, Paul Voosen, Science, 20 October 2016

What a Trump Win Means For the Global Climate Fight, David Victor, Environment 360, 11 November 2016

Trumping the climate, Judith Curry, Climate Etc., 13 November 2016

Carbon is not the enemy, William McDonough, Nature, 14 November 2016

Year 1 of the Trumpocene?, Stephan Foucart, Le Monde, 15 November 2016

The Trumpocene, Judith Curry, Climate Etc., 18 November 2016

Prospects for a prolonged slowdown in global warming in the early 21st century, Thomas R. Knutson, Rong Zhang & Larry W. Horowitz, Nature Communications, 30 November 2016

Climate Heretic: to be or not to be?, Judith Curry, Climate Etc., 5 December 2016

Energy Policy Recommendations for the Trump Administration, David Gattie, Plugged In, 7 December 2016

King Canute vs. the Climate Planners, Jeffrey Tucker, Foundation for Economic Education, 14 December 2016

The tragedy of the horizon, Judith Curry, Climate Etc., 21 December 2016

Internal climate variability as a confounding factor in climate sensitivity estimates, Frank Bosse, Climate Etc., 29 December 2016

The two-faced ‘reality’ of a clean energy future, Judith Curry, Climate Etc., 2 January 2017

Will Trump’s Climate Team Accept Any ‘Social Cost of Carbon’?, Andrew Revkin, ProPublica, 11 January 2017

Beyond Physics: Advanced Biology and Climate Change, Clive Hambler, Climate Etc., 15 January 2017

Climate Policy in the Age of Trump: A Plausible Path Forward, Ted Nordhaus, Alex Trembath, and Jessica Lovering, Foreign Affairs, 24 January 2017

Conflating the Climate Problem with the Solution, Judith Curry, Climate Etc., 3 February 2017

Brussel declaration on principles for science & policy making, Judith Curry, Climate Etc., 25 February 2017

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),
Fifth Assessment Report (AR5),
Summary for Policymakers (Final), 3 June 2014
IPCC.WG2.AR5.3June 2014.png
"Illustration of the core concepts of the WG2 AR5. Risks of climate-related impacts results from the interaction of climate-related hazards (including hazardous events and trends) with the vulnerability and exposure of human and natural systems. Changes in both the climate system (left) and socioeconomic processes including adaptation and mitigation (right) are drivers of hazards, exposure, and vulnerability."

0815.Rockefeller.UPEACE.jpg Democratic Equality,
Economic Inequality,
and the Earth Charter

Steven C. Rockefeller
Earth Charter, 29 June 2015

This essay is organized around the following themes: The Modern Democratic Concept of Equality; Economic Inequality; The Earth Charter and the Principle of Equality; The Earth Charter and Economic Inequality; A World Founded on Visions of Equality and Sustainability.


3. Mitigation of Habitat Degradation & Climate Change

Uncertainty About the Climate Uncertainty Monster

Judith Curry

Originally published by
Climate Etc., 19 May 2017
under a Creative Commons License

The many dimensions of the climate uncertainty monster.

Bret Stephens’ climate change op-ed of several weeks ago Climate of Complete Certainty spawned a number of articles related to uncertainty and climate change.

Andy Revkin’s article in response was titled There are lots of climate uncertainties.  Let’s acknowledge and plan for them with honesty.    Revkin even mentions the Uncertainty Monster and Jeroen van der Sluijs.

While the Uncertainty Monster (or  Mr. T) should be pleased at the mentions, there are numerous misconceptions among those that are trying to give climate uncertainty its due attention.

Let’s take a look at some of these issues.

Certainty, probabilities, uncertainty,  and ignorance

If you need a refresher on the Uncertainty Monster, see my original post

See also these additional posts.

Bret Stephens made the following statement

Anyone who has read the 2014 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change knows that, while the modest (0.85 degrees Celsius, or about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit) warming of the earth since 1880 is indisputable, as is the human influence on that warming, much else that passes as accepted fact is really a matter of probabilities.

Loosely speaking, yes climate change is a matter of probabilities.  However, mathematically speaking,  ‘probability’ already implies a great deal of certainty — that we have a well-defined pdf that includes all possible results.  This is certainly not true of very much in climate science, particularly related to attribution and 21st century projections.

From my paper Reasoning About Climate Uncertainty:

Statistical uncertainty is distinguished from scenario uncertainty, whereby scenario uncertainty implies that it is not possible to formulate the probability of occurrence particular outcomes. A scenario is a plausible but unverifiable description of how the system and/or its driving forces may develop in the future. 

Stainforth et al. (2007) argue that model inadequacy and an insufficient number of simulations in the ensemble preclude producing meaningful probability distributions from the frequency of model outcomes of future climate. Stainforth et al. state: “[G]iven nonlinear models with large systematic errors under current conditions, no connection has been even remotely established for relating the distribution of model states under altered conditions to decision-relevant probability distributions. .  . Furthermore, they are liable to be misleading because the conclusions, usually in the form of PDFs, imply much greater confidence than the underlying assumptions justify.”

Insufficiently large initial condition ensembles combined with model parameter and structural uncertainty preclude forming a PDF from climate model simulations that has much meaning in terms of establishing a mean value or confidence intervals. In the presence of scenario uncertainty, which characterizes climate model simulations, attempts to produce a PDF for climate sensitivity are arguably misguided and misleading. 

Back to Brett Stephens’ statement: much else that passes as accepted fact is really a matter of probabilities.

While I appreciate the distinction that Stephens is trying to make regarding ‘its not certain’, our understanding of future climate change is NOT a matter of probabilities.   Climate model projections and IPCC conclusions are possible future scenarios, and the uncertainties are too great to even come close to assessing probabilities.

I am very pleased to see that Andy Revkin has been engaging with the Society for Decision Making Under Deep Uncertainty and attended a recent meeting.  Revkin discusses the unknowability of future regional climate change.  However, Revkin’s acknowledgement of uncertainty extends mainly to the impacts:

Of course, no one there questioned the basic science identifying a growing human impact on climate from the buildup of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. But as is well known in the scientific community, while the climate basics have long been clear, many of the most consequential aspects of climate change remain shrouded in uncertainty.

Despite three decades of intensifying analysis using ever more sophisticated computer simulations and observing systems and vast troves of data gleaned through the passage of time, two of the most basic questions remain enduringly unclear: the pace and extent of warming from a given rise in CO2 and the resulting rate of sea-level rise as ice sheets deteriorate. Through 2100 or so, either could be disastrous or manageable.

There is some implicit acknowledgement about uncertainty in the rate of warming (associated with uncertainties in climate sensitivity to CO2); but no acknowledgement of the uncertainties about the broad range of causal mechanisms (internal and external) for climate change.

So it is good to see these acknowledgements of uncertainty in journalistic thought leaders in the climate debate.  But the Uncertainty Monster is a tricky dude, it doesn’t help to oversimplify him.

Uncertainty monster simplification

Chad Orzel has an article in Forbes:  Probability is more certain than you think:

Again, the quantitative nature of scientific uncertainty undermines this– there are no shruggies in science, but rather a range of possible outcomes, with quantitative probability estimates for each. Even if you don’t believe the worst claims for climate change, you can do way better than “Well, maybe it won’t happen…” Choosing not to make the effort to engage quantitatively is both lazy and dishonest.

Well, maybe the lazy and dishonest people are those who oversimplify deep uncertainty and ignorance by trying to quantify it.

There are most definitely ‘shruggies’ in science: the knowledge frontier and the unknown unknowns.

Understanding uncertainty associated with the complex, nonlinear and chaotic climate system, let alone managing it, is a very challenging endeavor.  Hence it is tempting for scientists and policy makers to simplify uncertainty to make it appear that the appropriate considerations have been undertaken.  For a previous post on this topic:

The IPCC oversimplifies the characterization of uncertainty by substituting ‘expert judgment’ for a thorough understanding of uncertainty.  They look at ‘evidence for’ and ‘evidence against’ (but somehow neglect a lot of the ‘evidence against’), and completely neglect to acknowledge ignorance.

Formal efforts at Uncertainty Quantification (e.g. regarding climate models) are a useful step, but are only scratching the surface of the uncertainties and neglect major aspects of structural uncertainties of the models.

The bottom line is that the climate system is too complex with myriad uncertainties for simple reductionist approaches to understanding and managing uncertainty to be useful.

Too much uncertainty?  Too much certainty?

There is a perception that uncertainty equals inaction.  The appropriate way to view the decision making under uncertainty challenge is summarized in this tweet by Silvio Funtowicz:

It’s not about certainty in probabilities, but how salient is the uncertainty in relation to a portfolio of policy options.

A recent paper found that upper midwest farmers say that there is too much uncertainty in climate change to justify changing their agricultural practices.

On the other hand, when there is too much certainty in a prediction, the results can be substantial losses:  English vineyards (planted with the expectations of warmer temperatures) were hit by frost this spring, wiping out half of the harvest [link]

Simple linear decision making can lead to decisions that do more harm than good.

Does more uncertainty increase the imperative for action?

Economists Gernot Wagner and Martin Weitzmann in their book Climate Shock argue that more uncertainty increases the imperative for climate action [link to FT article]:

The challenge is “almost uniquely global, uniquely long-term, uniquely irreversible and uniquely uncertain”. The book’s big contribution is on the last point: uncertainty. Climate change is a problem of insurance. For this, it is not median outcomes that matter most, but the outliers — the “fat tails” of the probability distribution of temperature.

Framing the challenge of climate change as a problem of insurance against disaster is intellectually fruitful. It also provides the right answer to sceptics. The question is not what we know for sure. The question is rather how certain we are (or can be) that nothing bad will happen. Given the science, which is well established, it is impossible to argue that we know the risks are small. This being so, taking action is logical. It is the right way to respond to the nature and scale of possible bad outcomes.

The manufactured ‘fat tail’ comes from confusing statistical uncertainty (with a possible infinite fat tail) with scenario uncertainty, which is limited on the upper end by articulation of a plausible worst case scenario.  I have written several posts about the flaws in Wagner and Weitzmann’s argument:

Climate of unintended consequences

So for the sake of argument, lets say we buy Gernot and Weizmann’s argument, and we do something.

What if the ‘cure’ is worse than the ‘disease’?  Bret Stephens wrote a follow on op-ed entitled Climate of Unintended Consequences, where he points out the folly of biofuels/ethanol to help address the problem of climate change.  There is also the diesel fuel example.

There is a new documentary that will air on May 18 in the UK — The Uncertainty has Settled [link]. Excerpt from the advert:

After eight years of travelling through conflict and poverty zones, Marijn Poels – a left wing filmmaker/journalist – decides to take some time off. In the Austrian mountains no less. It confronts him unexpectedly with the roots of agriculture and its modern day perspective. Globalisation and climate politics are causing radical changes such as farmers becoming energy suppliers. But the green ideology raises questions. The scientific topic of climate change has now become incontrovertibly a matter of world politics. Poels faces a personal conflict. Are we doing the right thing?

By radically changing global energy policies in a top down way, are we risking continued poverty in the developing world? Risks to our food supply?

And finally, what are the opportunity costs for focusing on this problem at the expense of others?

Value clashes and opportunity costs 

One characteristic of decisions under deep uncertainty is that there are value clashes involved — cost-benefit analysis does not capture the full dimension of the concerns.

For the sake of argument, lets say that we actually believe the climate model predictions and the assessments of costs by economists.  Should we then act, i.e. spend the money to address this problem?

Well, spending money on the climate change problem has opportunity costs, i.e. the money then doesn’t get spent on other problems.

Alex Berzerow has an interesting article:  Are microbiologists climate-denying science haters?  Excerpt:

Recently, I gave a seminar on “fake news” to professors and grad students at a large public university. Early in my talk, I polled the audience: “How many of you believe climate change is the world’s #1 threat?”

Silence. Not a single person raised his or her hand. Was I speaking in front of a group of science deniers? The College Republicans? Some fringe libertarian club? No, it was a room full of microbiologists.

How could so many incredibly intelligent people overwhelmingly reject what THE SCIENCE says about climate change? Well, they don’t. They just don’t see it as big of a threat to the world as other things. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of them felt that antibiotic resistance and pandemic disease were the biggest global threats. One person thought geopolitical instability was the biggest concern.

I told them that I believed poverty was the world’s biggest threat.  If we fix poverty, we could stop easily preventable health problems, such as infectious disease and malnutrition.

What so many in the media (and apparently the climate science community) fail to understand is that people have different values and priorities. Foreign policy analysts are terrified of North Korea. Economists fear Brexit and a Eurozone collapse. Geologists, especially those in the Pacific Northwest, fear a huge earthquake. Experts across the spectrum perceive threats differently, usually magnifying those with which they are most familiar.

In his response to his inaugural NYTimes op-ed [link], Brett Stephens writes:

The human race is forced to confront multiple environmental threats with limited economic resources. We have to make hard choices about how we assess the threats and how we allocate the resources — knowing all the time that information is imperfect and economic and environmental conditions are subject to change over time. Climate change is one of those threats, but not the only one: think of malnutrition, “ordinary” pollution, land mismanagement and so on. We need a serious debate not only about how to allocate those resources, but also about whether we have the tools right now to make a switch to less carbon-intensive energy sources in a way that doesn’t impose its own set of grave and unanticipated economic and environmental problems.

In other words, to say we want to take out insurance for climate change is perfectly sensible. But whether we know we’re buying the right insurance, at the right price, is less clear, and it behooves us to look closely at the fine print before we sign on.

Decision making under deep uncertainty

So how should we deal with risks associated with human caused climate change? To say with full confidence that there are no risks is simply wrong.  We can argue until the cows come home about how likely catastrophic risks are, but there remains the possibility of catastrophic risks — I have argued that the uncertainty is too great to assign a probability to this; possibility is the appropriate likelihood.

From my post Permanent paradigm paralysis:

In their Wrong Trousers essay, Prins and Rayner argue that we have made the wrong cognitive choices in our attempts to define the problem of climate change, by relying on strategies that worked previously with ozone, sulphur emissions and nuclear bombs. While these issues may share some superficial similarities with the climate change problems, they are ‘tame’ problems (complicated, but with defined and achievable end-states), whereas climate change is ‘wicked’ (comprising open, complex and imperfectly understood systems). For wicked problems, effective policy requires profound integration of technical knowledge with understanding of social and natural systems. In a wicked problem, there is no end to causal chains in interacting open systems, and every wicked problem can be considered as a symptom of another problem; if we attempt to simplify the problem, we become risk becoming prisoners of our own assumptions.

Simply put, the current focus on CO2 emissions reductions risks having a massively expensive global solution that is more damaging to societies than the problem of climate change.

The precautionary principal is by no means the only decision analytic framework to use under conditions of deep uncertainty, see these previous posts:

The Hartwell paperhas a very insightful summary


‘Muddling through’ at the local level is probably what will happen.  We can be smart about muddling through, as illustrated in this blog post at


The ‘Uncertainty Monster’ was the theme that launched this blog in 2010. There have been some very significant advances in our thinking on this topic, both in the scientific community and our thinking about decision making.

However, much of this has not trickled up into the UNFCCC/IPCC and the public debate on climate change.  Brett Stephens and Andy Revkin can play an important role on the media side of all this.

The climate Uncertainty Monster is maturing, and he is demanding that we pay attention.


Judith Curry is Professor and former Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology and President (co-owner) of Climate Forecast Applications Network (CFAN).

4. Adaptation to Habitat Degradation & Climate Change

The key to understanding the end of the Industrial Age

John G. Howe

Originally published in the author's website
PER CAPITA OIL, February 2017

Please read and personally forward through your contacts on cyberspace and social media the following facts, numbers, and science. This is the untold, non-political context for most of the world's growing ills and chaos. Your added personal energy is critical.

Linked References: Book (available from Amazon) The End of Fossil Energy including selected web sites, Bibliography, Appendix A, Power Point Summary, "Winter in Maine".

Peak Oil and Climate Change: The End of Fossil Energy and Per Capita Oil
John G. Howe, 5th Edition, 2016

See linked Appendix A, and Book Power Point Summary Figures 2, 4, 10: oil is a finite resource. The world has already used 1.2 trillion barrels from an estimated ultimate recoverable resource (URR) of 2.4 trillion barrels, with half of that in the last 25 years at the rate of one billion barrels every eleven days. We are at, or near the midpoint of the two-lifetime, oil-fueled Industrial Age.

  • The U.S. with 1/25 of the world population uses 1/4 of world's oil.
  • World total oil use: 32 billion barrels per year
  • U.S. total oil use: 7 billion barrels per year

Of that 7 billion barrels, almost one half (3.2 billion barrels), is consumed just as gasoline to drive over three trillion miles per year. Most of the other half is for diesel fuel, jet fuel and heating oil as the basis for support of the energy-intensive, ubiquitous, mobile, American lifestyle. Americans use as much oil just for gasoline as China's or Western Europe's total oil consumption.


See Power Point Summary Figure 9: at the present rate, and assuming world-wide consumers can afford higher-priced remaining oil, there are less than 40 years left in the world oil-age at the annual rate of 32 billion barrels (1.2 trillion barrels divided by 32 equals 37.5 years).

Based on the very optimistic assumption of 50 billion barrels left in the U.S. at an acceptable price, there are 7 years left of business as usual if only U.S. oil is used (50 billion barrels divided by 7 equals 7.1 years). If one half of U.S. oil is imported as is presently the case, there are 15 years left (50 billion barrels divided by 3.5 equals 14.3 years). To extend the U.S. oil age would require a higher percentage of imported oil. Note: In January 2017, the American Petroleum Institute would like us to believe we have so much U.S. oil we can "become an exporter of crude oil" (USA Today, January 13, 2017).


Power Point Summary Figure 3 is another way of understanding the numbers as per-person consumption (per capita). Americans are burning oil at a per capita rate of 22 barrels per person per year (b/p/y). In sharp contrast, the average world per capita oil consumption (not including U.S.) is 3 b/p/y. A staggering half of the U.S. 22 b/p/y is just for gasoline (11 b/p/y). This is the same per capita rate as in industrialized Western Europe for all of their oil consumption which has been kept in check for years by very high gasoline taxes and small fuel-efficient cars.


How can this be? For years, conventional wisdom taught us that the decline of the oil age would be signaled by higher oil cost. Further thought argues against this theory. In the past, as long as there was enough wealth and purchasing power in the U.S. economy to support ever-more expensive extraction technology (horizontal fracking, tar sands, deep off-shore, polar, etc.), the rate of increased production was supported by a steady price increase.

Then, in the next ten years following 2005, when oil approached $100 per barrel and gasoline reached $4 per gallon, the average family of four spent $8,800 (22 b/p/y times $100) annually to fuel their petroleum-based lifestyle. A low income family trying to survive on minimum wage or social security could not afford the $8800 cost so gasoline demand, by a growing pool of poorer, increasingly indebted Americans, decreased (called demand destruction). This contributed to growing wealth disparity as wealthier Americans continued to consume more of everything.

In the same time period, Chinese imports continued to increase thus contributing to their economic growth but made by cheap labor living on a per capita oil consumption of 2 b/p/y.

This precarious world-balance between oil supply and demand continued until 2014 when the Saudi government tired of losing market share to the new, increasingly expensive, non-conventional sources. This, combined with growing economic woes from other world oil suppliers like Russia, triggered a reduction in world production. Marginal, non-conventional U.S. suppliers, along with oil-field service companies, were highly leveraged. Many ceased production and/or went bankrupt while waiting for a quick price recovery. The result was a sharp decline in extraction and a drop in price to the $40 per barrel range.

Classical economics would predict a concurrent rebound in demand, but the largest world oil-consumer bloc, the indebted American motorist, did not quickly respond thus keeping price and production at low level. Now, as we move into 2017, oil is moving back toward the $60 range. Unfortunately, this is a double-edged sword because the price of gasoline will climb back above to $3 per gallon thus forcing highly-indebted American motorists to end a temporary resurgence of prosperity in order to redirect their meager income back to gasoline and away from other discretionary sectors of the economy (see Figure 12 in the Power Point Summary).

In the spring of 2017, when Americans hit the road again, the new administration will be faced with the irreconcilable tension between the higher cost from a reinvigorated oil industry and the public's growing inability to afford gasoline. The economy will take a new hit as the cost of 400 million gallons per day at $3 per gallon (1.2 billion dollars) takes priority in spending habits.


Figure 14 in the Power Point Summary outlines a plan and lists the positives for a controlled, nation-wide reduction in gasoline demand by the number 1 consumer bloc in the world. Americans will eventually be forced by waning supply to reduce oil consumption to the world average of 3 b/p/y whether they like it or not. Rationing would anticipate this inevitability and help smooth the transition. Figures 13, 14, and 15 show the details along with the reduction in CO2 emissions to be expected from fifty-percent gasoline rationing.


Meanwhile, world (including U.S.) population increases inexorably as shown in Figure 7 of the Power Point. This is a looming tragedy of historically unprecedented magnitude. Nowhere-near adequate food will be possible without the inexpensive oil which made it possible for one individual farmer to grow and ship food thousands of miles to an average of three hundred consumers. Chapter 6 in the linked book, The End of Fossil Energy defines the math of "population momentum", and why a fertility rate of zero children per female would be necessary for population to decline in synch with declining oil.


Climate Change is a very real but much longer-range concern. Without cheap oil there will be a decline of all fossil fuels including coal, and therefore less green-house gas emissions. Many parts of the world will have an altered, but not life-threatening, climate. Figure 15 in the Power Point shows sources of the present world CO2 emissions, most of which are from burning eight billion tons of coal globally, with one-half of that in smoggy China.

Renewable Energy cannot possibly replace the concentrated energy of fossil fuels which took millions of years to accumulate. Figure 10 in the Power Point Summary shows dilute incoming solar energy as only one-percent of total present consumption. Any increase in solar energy, including wind, would require massive oil support and financial investment plus time, much longer than remains in the oil age. All solar energy is weak and sporadic thus requiring substantial storage, the "Achille's Heel" of all energy sources. Hydro is maxed-out because of required land mass and topography. Nuclear is limited by safety, fuel supply, and long-term expensive investment. In addition, renewables provide only electricity which will not fuel our transportation needs without massive investments of capital, finite fossil-energy, and time. Battery recycling is impossible without oil. Air travel and commercial diesel requirements cannot possibly be met with electricity from renewables. Biofuels require massive inputs of fossil fuels, compete with food, and do not return nutrients and energy (like "humanure") to their origin.

Interest-driven investment is a questionable economic concept in the face of declining growth. Nothing of substance grows without energy. The end of cheap oil will begin the decline of all energy sources and infers that interest returned on principal is an illusion of monetary growth without commensurate, real, energy-driven, economic growth.

Alternative transportation proposals are unrealistic because there is no energy source including biofuels remotely close to oil that can support the liquid-fueled mobility we take for granted. Nor is there the wealth and time to support such a transition. Only oil can provide the unique energy source we take for granted as we take the energy supply on-board along with us as we travel. Air travel and personal motorized transportation only work because of the unique energy intensity of oil-derived fuels. In some places, electrified third rail public transportation may revive. But this will take time and investment. It is totally incompatible with the post WWII, gasoline-fueled exodus to the suburbs.

On-line shopping, daily mail delivery, and all forms of ubiquitous personal service depend on profligate oil consumption that cannot continue without cheap oil.

Infrastructure repair is a popular concept but is entirely dependent on energy, specifically the need for oil at less than $10 per barrel as was the case when the infrastructure was originally built.

Building construction and maintenance are totally dependent on inexpensive oil. Although not as urgent as food and transportation energy, both private and public buildings require energy, specifically oil, to provide the shelter we need and expect. Already, buildings in the poorer parts of the country are neglected as discretionary spending and taxes take lower priority to gasoline and growing trillions of dollars of consumer debt. In some parts of the country heating oil will no longer be an option. As the price of oil climbs, the cost to keep warm is added to gasoline for mobility. Both are examples of rapidly burning-through our most precious finite resource. We cannot revert to firewood (where available) without fuel for the chainsaw, skidder, or delivery truck.

Public services we took for granted in the past low-cost energy age will come under increased pressure. From local law enforcement to national security, we expect the protection of an oil-fueled civil society. Readily available hospital care and out-patient medical services are further examples of energy-intensive needs that depend on inexpensive oil. Public water and sewage disposal systems require readily available gasoline and diesel for maintenance and supply. Schools need liquid fuels for student transportation, teacher mobility, and building heat. A world wide air delivery postal service cannot return to the pony express and sailing vessels. Fire protection and first responder response absolutely run on gasoline and diesel fuel. The list goes on and on. Shouldn't we be saving our remaining oil for these civil necessities? Our society has grown and is totally dependent on liquid, but finite, fossil fuels. As previous President Bush said, "We are addicted to oil."

Welfare and entitlements cannot be provided without the underlying support of a growing population supported, as in the past, with abundant energy. Social Security, Medicare, and Disability Insurance are examples of the ubiquitous, comfortable safety nets we've come to expect in the oil age and continuing economic growth. As our population grows older, almost every health need will compete with the cost of oil just as it becomes less available and more expensive.

Transition towns and other proposals for local, self-sufficient economies cannot provide the basic industrial-age goods we expect from a vast capital-intensive integrated economy. Small details like disposable batteries, light bulbs, computers, solar-energy components, paper products, rechargeable batteries, and recycling all depend on fossil fuels for manufacture and shipping. In addition, small close-knit societies must respect the mathematical laws of inexorable population growth.

Recreational oil use is especially problematic. From powering a snowmobile to mass travel to a major sporting event, the oil we consume now will not be there for survival in the post-oil age. The fuel used for an internal combustion race of any type leaves less for growing food in the future.

Fighting mother nature consumes prodigious amounts of liquid fossil fuels. Every time there's a tornado, hurricane or snowstorm we expend prodigious quantities of liquid fuels to respond. The linked essay: "Winter in Maine" describes the annual battle in rural New England to keep us going, including ten gallons of diesel fuel per mile to plow snow. Will we even need to plow snow with no fuel for our cars?

Oil to support other energy sources. Coal cannot be mined and delivered without oil. Natural gas access and pipelines are directly dependent on oil. Nuclear plants and hydroelectric plants cannot be built and maintained without the oil necessary for a diesel-powered support system.

Oil to support other non-energy resources. All other finite resources we take for granted like steel, aluminum, and fertilizers, will decline despite a growing population. Notwithstanding less oil available for mining, there will be less available for future needs. The book, Scarcity, in the linked bibliography, describes this growing challenge in quantified detail.


Clearly, we are a world-wide industrialized society that has grown in population and complexity only because of, and in lock-step with, the availability of cheap oil. One would think that human brains capable of inventing space travel and microchips would recognize the magnitude of the cliff we are now facing at the looming end of the oil age. Americans living on ten times the per capita oil as the world average have ten times farther to fall.

Many will argue that the resurgence in U.S. oil extraction and the lower price of oil is proof that the long-term reality of oil depletion will not happen. This narrative is especially dangerous because it encourages avoidance of the dire facts and changes we must make.

But all is not hopeless. First, the public needs to know the numbers and total story, hence the need for this web site to be forwarded in every and any way possible, by you! There is a desperate need for a focused, honest, apolitical leadership to tell truth. Arguably, in times of pending crisis, only a heroic autocratic figure could lead and teach why we must all expect gasoline rationing as a first step to mitigation. When urgent action is required, cumbersome, traditional forms of governance like a Democracy, Socialism, a political party system, or Communism cannot respond, especially if there is the tendency for every societal member to grab whatever possible for personal survival and perpetuation of a past energy-intensive lifestyle. When declining resources are overwhelmed by increasing demand, especially with ethnic or wealth disparity, survival trumps peaceful group response: "too many forks in a shrinking pie".

See earlier website: Contact:

Addendum to Per Capita Oil ~ WARNING!
John Howe, May 2017

Nearly all of the material world we expect and enjoy is dependent on readily-available, inexpensiveenergy from finite hydrocarbons in either gaseous, liquid, or solid states. Of these three forms, the short Industrial Age has been a time when our personal energy needs for food, warmth, shelter, transportation, security, entertainment, health care, etc. have been most rendered superfluous by oil.

As would be expected with any biophysical process, continued expansion was commensurate withthe steady increase in utilization of these temporary bonanzas of relatively free energy sources. Energy-intensive growth included food, population, infrastructure, climate change, and the basis forthe interest-added-to-principal foundation of the financial-banking-economic model we take forgranted.

Since 2005, affordable world oil extraction leveled off at 80 million barrels per day and has nowreached a critical beginning of contraction as population continues to increase. Many reputablevoices have warned for years of this pivotal point in history, but the mainstream public does not hearthe facts. All other energy sources can only be a tiny fraction of the fossil fuels we’ve come to takefor granted. Oil is especially problematic because it is absolutely necessary for transportation plusaccess to all other energy sources as well as essential non-energetic finite resources, also limited infuture supply. Oil dependency is frequently the basis for global turmoil where a growing populationhas already exceeded availability of affordable oil, and therefore food, which is also constrained byclimate change.

Any hope of mitigating this looming catastrophe of civilization will require all of the following, beginning immediately:

  • Honest leadership and public recognition of the overarching enormity of the finite-oil/energy crisis. A return to the growth days of ten dollar per barrel oil is impossible. Liquid bio fuels are tooenergy-dependent to substitute for oil.

  • A well-publicized movement to begin population contraction by reproduction at less than one childper female. Those nations that achieve this will avert starvation.

  • An honest quantitative understanding of the feeble contribution, cost, and energy storagelimitations of alternative “renewable” energy sources, all dependent on oil.

  • Immediate curtailment of the gross waste of oil in the U.S., specifically for gasoline consumption at10 million barrels per day. Rationing would be far better than higher prices or taxation which onlylead to further wealth disparity.

    If every one of these were to happen, we and our descendants could have at least one more generation of the waning oil age and prepare for a low-energy future.

  • 5. Solidarity, Subsidiarity, Sustainability, and Nonviolence

    The Looting Machine Called Capitalism

    Paul Craig Roberts

    This article was originally presented at the
    CounterPunch, 26 April 2017

    I have come to the conclusion that capitalism is successful primarily because it can impose the majority of the costs associated with its economic activities on outside parties and on the environment. In other words, capitalists make profits because their costs are externalized and born by others. In the US, society and the environment have to pick up the tab produced by capitalist activity.

    In the past when critics raised the question about external costs, that is, costs that are external to the company although produced by the company’s activities, economists answered that it was not really a problem, because those harmed by the activity could be compensated for the damages that they suffered. This statement was intended to reinforce the claim that capitalism served the general welfare. However, the extremely primitive nature of American property rights meant that rarely would those suffering harm be compensated. The apologists for capitalism saved the system in the abstract, but not in reality.

    My recent article, “The Destruction of Inlet Beach,” made it clear to me that very little, if any, of the real estate development underway would be profitable if the external costs imposed on existing property holders had to be compensated.

    Consider just a few examples. When a taller house is constructed in front of one of less height, the Gulf view of the latter is preempted. The damage to the property value of the house whose view has been blocked is immense. Would the developer build such a tall structure if the disadvantaged existing property had to be compensated for the decline in its value?

    When a house is built that can sleep 20 or 30 people next to a family’s vacation home or residence, the noise and congestion destroys the family’s ability to enjoy their own property. If they had to be compensated for their loss, would the hotel, disquised as a “single family dwelling” have been built?

    Walton County, Florida, is so unconcerned about these vital issues that it has permitted construction of structures that can accommodate 30 people, but provide only three parking spaces. Where do the rental guests park? How many residents will find themselves blocked in their own driveways or with cars parked on their lawns?

    As real estate developers build up congestion, travel times are extended. What formerly was a 5 minute drive from Inlet Beach to Seaside along 30-A can now take 45 minutes during summer and holidays, possibly longer. Residents and visitors pay the price of the developers’ profits in lost time. The road is a two-lane road that cannot be widened. Yet Walton County’s planning department took no account of the gridlock that would emerge.

    As the state and federal highways serving the area were two lanes, over-development made hurricane evacuation impossible. Florida and US taxpayers had to pay for turning two lane highways into four lane highways in order to provide some semblance of hurricane evacuation. After a decade, the widening of highway 79, which runs North-South is still not completed to its connection to Interstate 10. Luckily, there have been no hurricanes.

    If developers had to pay these costs instead of passing them on to taxpayers, would their projects still be profitable?

    Now consider the external costs of offshoring the production of goods and services that US corporations, such as Apple and Nike, market to Americans. When production facilities in the US are closed and the jobs are moved to China, for example, the American workers lose their jobs, medical coverage, careers, pension provision, and often their self-respect when they are unable to find comparable employment or any employment. Some fall behind in their mortgage and car payments and lose their homes and cars. The cities, states, and federal governments lose the tax base as personal income and sales taxes decline and as depressed housing and commercial real estate prices in the abandoned communities depress property taxes. Social security and Medicare funding is harmed as payroll tax deposits fall. State and local infrastructure declines. Possibly crime rises. Safety net needs rise, but expenditures are cut as tax revenues decline. Municipal and state workers find their pensions at risk. Education suffers. All of these costs greatly exceed Apple’s and Nike’s profits from substituting cheaper foreign labor for American labor. Contradicting the neoliberal claims, Apple’s and Nike’s prices do not drop despite the collapse in labor costs that the corporations experience.

    A country that was intelligently governed would not permit this. As the US is so poorly governed, the executives and shareholders of global corporations are greatly enriched because they can impose the costs associated with their profits on external third parties.

    The unambigious fact is that US capitalism is a mechanism for looting the many for the benefit of the few. Neoliberal economics was constructed in order to support this looting. In other words, neoliberal economists are whores just like the Western print and TV media.

    Yet, Americans are so insouciant that you will hear those who are being looted praise the merits of “free market capitalism.”

    So far we have barely scratched the surface of the external costs that capitalism imposes. Now consider the polution of the air, soil, waterways, and oceans that result from profit-making activities. Consider the radioactive wastes pouring out of Fukushima since March 2011 into the Pacific Ocean. Consider the dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico from agricultural chemical fertilizer run-off. Consider the destruction of the Apalachicola, Florida, oyster beds from the restricted river water that feeds the bay due to overdevelopment upstream. Examples such as these are endless. The corporations responsible for this destruction bear none of the costs.

    If it turns out that global warming and ocean acidification are consequences of capitalism’s carbon-based energy system, the entire world could end up dead from the external costs of capitalism.

    Free market advocates love to ridicule economic planning, and Alan Greenspan and Larry Summers actually said that “markets are self-regulating.” There is no sign anywhere of this self-regulation. Instead, there are external costs piled upon external costs. The absence of planning is why over-development has made 30-A dysfunctional, and it is why over-development has made metropolitan areas, such as Atlanta, Georgia, dysfunctional. Planning does not mean the replacement of markets. It means the provision of rules that produce rational results instead of shifting costs of development onto third parties.

    If capitalism had to cover the cost of its activities, how many of the activities would pay?

    As capitalists do not have to cover their external costs, what limits the costs?

    Once the external costs exceed the biosphere’s ability to process the waste products associated with external costs, life ends.

    We cannot survive an unregulated capitalism with a system of primitive property rights. Ecological economists such as Herman Daly understand this, but neoliberal economists are apologists for capitalist looting. In days gone by when mankind’s footprint on the planet was light, what Daly calls an “empty world,” productive activities did not produce more wastes than the planet could cleanse. But the heavy foot of our time, what Daly calls a “full world,” requires extensive regulation. The Trump administration’s program of rolling back environmental protection, for example, will multiply external costs. To claim that this will increase economic growth is idiotic. As Daly (and Michael Hudson) emphasize, the measure known as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is so flawed that we do not know whether the increased output costs more to produce than it is worth. GDP is really a measure of what has been looted without reference to the cost of the looting. Environmental deregulation means that capitalists can treat the environment as a garbage dump. The planet can become so toxic that it cannot recover.

    In the United States and generally across the Western world, property rights exist only in a narrow, truncated form. A developer can steal your view forever and your solitude for the period his construction requires. If the Japanese can have property rights in views, in quiet which requires noise abatement, and in sun fall on their property, why can’t Americans? After all, we are alleged to be the “exceptional people.”

    But in actual fact, Americans are the least exceptional people in human history. Americans have no rights at all. We hapless insignificant beings have to accept whatever capitalists and their puppet government impose on us. And we are so stupid we call it “Freedom and Democracy America.”


    Paul Craig Roberts is a former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury and Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal. Roberts’ How the Economy Was Lost is now available from CounterPunch in electronic format. His latest book is The Neoconservative Threat to World Order.

    6. Non-Renewable & Renewable Energy Resources

    Source: IEO 2011 Figure 2, US DOE/EIA, 2011
    Continued use and abuse of non-renewable energy sources is unsustainable. In the long-term, renewable energy sources will be indispensable. Technologies are available (or can become available with appropriate incentives) that would make it possible to meet most human energy needs with clean energy by 2050. However, to make it happen is mainly a social issue, not a technical one. Most projections on energy supply and demand reflect a "business as usal" mindset that entails continuation of recent trends. For instance, consider the data and projections (left) from the International Energy Outlook (IEO) 2011, Energy Information Administration, US Department of Energy, September 2011. For a more comprehensive set of charts, see Energy Perspectives.

    Most projections to 2050 and beyond suggest that, while energy demand will continue to grow, no significant shift from fossil fuels to renewables is to be expected. Indeed, the demand for fossil fuels is very inelastic; what other choice do people have as long as there are no clean energy alternatives?. But humans are bound to be affected by continued environmental deterioration and climate change, so the extrapolation of recent growth trends into the future does not bode well for either the future health of the planet or the wellbeing of humanity. Thus is the nature of an economic system in which short-term profits are the sole arbiter of production and consumption decisions.

    Source: Charles A. S. Hall, 2010, reprinted in Wikipedia
    Lurking under the rosy projections of global energy production and consumption is the implicit assumption that economic growth - in terms of production and consumption of material commodities - will continue to grow even if population stabilizes. Any other assumption would be "politically incorrect" and therefore ruled out. However, the energy return on energy investment (EROEI, or EROI), and therefore the financial return on investment, is much higher for non-renewables than for renewables, as shown in the chart inserted to the right. As long as this is the case, the worldwide carbon-based economic and financial systems - driven as they are to minimize "time to market" and maximize short-term profits "one quarter at a time" - are utterly unable to shift priorities from carbon-based growth to sustainable stability. As economist Milton Friedman has pointed out, "only a crisis - actual or perceived - produces real change. When the crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend upon the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable." A compilation of such alternatives, by no means exhaustive or definitively integrated, is presented in Section 7.


    The Great Transition From Fossil Fuels to Renewable Energy, Lester R. Brown, Earth Policy Institute, 25 October 2012
    New NREL Data Book Shows Renewable Energy on the Rise, Rachel Gelman, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), 12 November 2012
    Sustainable Energy in America 2013 Factbook, Business Council for Sustainable Energy, 1 February 2013
    Coal Plants Are Victims of Their Own Economics, Dan Ferber, Science Magazine, 18 February 2013
    Discovery May Lead to the Creation of Biofuel from CO2 in the Atmosphere, SciTechDaily Staff, 26 March 2013
    World’s Growing Oil Resources, Deborah Gordon, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 17 April 2013
    Uncovering Oil’s Unknowns, Deborah Gordon and Chris Malins Article, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 19 June 2013
    Fossil Fuels – A New Normal, Deborah Gordon, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 15 July 2013.
    The Fragmented Governance of the Global Energy Economy: A Legal-Institutional Analysis, Rafael Leal-Arcas and Andrew Filis, Journal of World Energy, Law, and Business, 19 July 2013
    Energy and the Economy: Basic Principles and Feedback Loops, Gail Tverberg, Our Finite World, 22 July 2013
    Sustainable Energy Breakthrough: Hydrogen Fuel from Sunlight, Jim Scott, LiveScience, 17 August 2013
    The Energy Community and the Energy Charter Treaty, Rafael Leal-Arcas and Andrew Filis, Oil, Gas & Energy Law Journal, 28 May 2014
    Ban launches UN Decade of Sustainable Energy for All, India Blooms News Service, 6 June 2014
    Know Your Oil: Creating a Global Oil-Climate Index, Deborah Gordon et al, Carnegie Endowment, 11 March 2015
    Global Solar Alliance Launched by 120 Countries at COP21, PV-Tech, Tom Kenning, 30 November 2015
    Global Geothermal Alliance Ready to Officially Launch December 7, 2015, ThinkGeoEnergy, 2 December 2015
    Can Coal-Fired Plants be Re-Powered Today with Stored Energy from Wind and Solar?, Davis Swan, Climate, Etc., 6 December 2015

    Renewables 2015 Global Status Report
    REN21, June 2015

    "First released in 2005, REN21’s Renewables Global Status Report (GSR) provides a comprehensive and timely overview of renewable energy market, industry, investment and policy developments worldwide. It enables policymakers, industry, investors and civil society to make informed decisions. The Renewables Global Status Report relies on up-to-date renewable energy data, provided by an international network of more than 500 contributors, researchers, and authors. Check out REN21’s Renewables Interactive Map for country specific data underlying the various trends highlighted in the GSR."

    Renewable Energy: Technologies and Global Markets
    PRNewswire, January 11, 2016

    "A new study by BCC Research finds that the global renewable energy market (excluding biofuels) reached $432.7 billion in 2013 and $476.3 billion in 2014. This market is expected to increase to $777.6 billion in 2019, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.3% from 2014 to 2019. The global hydroelectric technology market for renewable energy was valued at $298 billion in 2014 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 7.2% from 2014 to 2019 to reach a value of $422.1 billion in 2019. In terms of revenue, the wind power market was valued at nearly $104.9 billion in 2014 and is expected to reach $180.1 billion in 2019, growing at a CAGR of 11.4% from 2014 to 2019."

    7. Simulation Scenarios of the Transition to Sustainability

    This section presents the emerging synthesis of all the information in sections 1 to 7. The synthesis is presented in the form of a concept that integrates the social, economic, and energy issues that must be resolved to attain a civilized (i.e., humane) transition during the first half of the 21st century. Energy balance for entropy control is a non-negotiable requirement, and gender balance for violence mitigation is an indispensable catalyst for the transition. The strategy is presented next from the process, time-phasing, and system perspectives:


    The following is a conceptual diagram of the sustainable development process:

    Bounded Population-Economic-Ecological System for Sustainable Human Development
    Adapted from Prosperity without Growth, Tim Jackson, 2011, Figure 12.1, Page 195

    There are three sets of feedback loops: human development, human adaptation, and industrial mitigation. The human development loops (yellow arrows) improve gender equality and other human capabilities, and guide the allocation of income/commodities generated by the economic system. The human adaptation loops (red arrows) drive ecological investment so as to enhance the sustainability of ecosystem services. The industrial mitigation loops (green arrows) improve the productivity of energy and other resources by using "industrial engineering" methods. The working hypothesis is that mitigation loops are helpful as long as their operation is subservient to, and do not interfere with, the human development and human adaptation loops.

    The convergence of gender balance, energy balance, and sustainability emerges from gender imbalance and energy imbalance jointly driving human civilization toward unsustainability. Many other factors are involved, but gender and energy imbalances are the most pervasive, and balancing them would have a neutralizing effect on all the other factors that conspire against a sustainable human society. If the transition from consumerism to sustainability is to be attained in a timely and civilized manner, i.e., before it is too late and minimizing violence as much as possible, balancing gender relations and energy flows would be the best (perhaps the only?) way to go.


    There are four phases: concientization, incentivation, redistribution, and democratization. Phases may overlap recursively. Time is of the esence, but the specifc start/end dates for the time windows are impossible to predict.

    The following acronyms, and terminology are used in this transition concept and subsequent discussion:
    Energy Return on Investment (EROI)
    Energy return on Energy Investment (EROEI)
    Financial Transaction Tax (FTT)
    Global Citizens Movement (GCM)
    Human Development (HD)
    Human Development Index (HDI)
    Human Development Report (HDR)
    Integral Human Development (IHD)
    International Standards Organization (ISO)
    Land Value Tax (LVT) or Resource Value Tax (RVT)
    Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs (MASLOW)
    Non-Governmental Organization (NGO)
    Principle of Solidarity (SOLIDARITY)
    Principle of Subsidiarity (SUBSIDIARITY)
    Principle of Sustainability (SUSTAINABILITY)
    Sustainable Development (SD)
    Sustainable Human Development (SHD)
    Triple Bottom Line (TBL)
    The formula I=PxAxT, known as "Ehrlich's Equation," is generally recognized as a good model for the ecological impact of economic activity. The impact is a nonlinear function of human population (P, # of persons), affluence (A) measured as consumption per capita ($/person), and a technology factor (T) that quantifies the impact (in physical units) per dollar of consumption. Note that for impact (I) to decrease, the technology factor (T) must go down faster than the product of population (P) and lifestyle (A) grows.
    Several formulations are possible for IHD. The best known is the United Nations' Human Development Index (HDI) which includes three components: life expectancy, years of schooling, and GNP per capita. The are many variations of the HDI to include, for example, the gender equality dimension. Other indices attempt to replace GNP with other measures of human wellbeing, such as the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), the GINI Cofficient of Inequality, and the Happy Planet Index (HPI).

    The transition entails maximizing human development and wellbeing as much as possible, and minimizing ecological impacts as much as possible, in a manner that leads to economic and ecological stability. Clearly, maximizing human wellbeing and minimizing ecological impact are mutually contradictory goals as long as human wellbeing is measured in terms of material consumption per capita. Since there are resource limits, and there are limits to efficiency improvements via technological innovation, something must give: humans must adapt by shifting expectations of wellbeing from economic affluence to other human development goals. It is impossible to predict how this adaptation process will unfold, but the following synopsis of the transition phases is proposed as a point of reference:

    The first phase is concientization to enable incentivation. The objective is to create widespread popular support for the required revisions of tax codes and energy subsidies. In other words, the first phase is about creating a collective mindset of global citizenship and social responsibility, strong enough to translate into political will to face the inevitable transition and implement required reforms. Gender equity is key.

    The second phase is incentivation to enable redistribution. The objective is to reform tax codes and energy subsidies to expedite the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. Applicable reforms include shifting taxes from earned income to the usage (extraction) of unearned resources and the release of pollution, as well as taxing financial transactions of dubious social value. Gender equality is key.

    The third phase is redistribution to enable democratization. The objective is to institutionalize democracy with gender balance and distributive justice. This may entail adopting a Universally Guaranteed Personal Income (i.e., a basic minimum income rather than a minimum wage) and a Maximum Allowable Personal Wealth (i.e., an upper limit on financial wealth accumulation) that can be democratically adjusted periodically.

    The fourth phase is worldwide democratization. The objective is democratization of global, national, and local governance with deeply ingrained gender balance and widely institutionalized implementation of the solidarity, subsidiarity, and sustainability principles. Decisions are to be made at the lowest possible level consistent with governance capabilities and the common good of humanity.

    The four phases are not envisioned to be strictly sequential. They most probably will overlap, with recursions and convulsions along the way. The term "gender equality" is not to be understood as "gender uniformity." By gender equality is meant equality of dignity and personal development opportunities across the entire gender continuum. In other words, full equality in all dimensions of human life: physical, intellectual, psychological, vocational, spiritual. The term "clean energy" is to be understood as "clean renewable energy" that is naturally replenished and does not produce GHG emissions when used. It does not include absurdities such as "clean coal." The combination of gender balance and energy balance is hereby proposed as the necessary and sufficient driver for a civilized (i.e., humane) transition, and are expected to have a multiplying effect throughout the global human system.



    The following diagram represents the present world human system:

    The positive signs indicate positive (self-reinforcing) feedback loops
    Based on the Ecocosm Paradox Diagram by Willard R. Fey & Ann C. W. Lam, 1999

    The downward flow at the center is the flow (lifecycle) for all kinds of merchandise. The feedback loop on the right-hand side is the population growth process. The feedback loop on the left-hand side is the economic growth process. If human consumption keeps increasing, natural resources are depleted and pollution accumulates. If human consumption decreases/stabilizes, the current economic/financial system destabilizes/collapses. This is the "infinite growth in a finite planet" paradox, which is more commonly referred to as the "sustainable development" paradox or simply the sustainability paradox.

    The connecting arrows in the diagram indicate a ceteris paribus direction of influence. In the current world system the sense of every influence is positive, i.e., "more" leads to "more." However, the strength of the influence may change with time depending on various factors. For instance, the strength of the influence from "General Human Wellbeing" to "Net Human Fertility" may decrease after a certain threshold of wellbeing, higher levels of education, and accesibility to reproductive heath care. The strength of the influence from "Material Human Comfort" to "Decisions to Borrow and Invest" may increase when lines of credit with low interest rates are easy to obtain.


    The following diagram represents the present world human system with samples of recent trend data for population, consumption, and the physical flows of energy and materials:

    World Population 1950-2100 (UNDATA, 2010 Revision)
    World Consumption Per Capita 1965-1995 (World Bank, 2011)
    World Human Consumption 1960-2009 (World Bank, 2011)
    World Energy Consumption 1990-2035(DOE EIA, IEO 2011)
    World Average Land Surface Temperature 1800-2005 (Berkeley Earth, October 2011)

    At the moment, the world's population is approximately 7 billion people but the rate of growth is slowing down. Global consumption of goods and services is approaching 60 trillion dollars, with 80% of commodities going to 20% of the population. Empirical data shows that consumption is growing faster than population, even though over one billion people remain in abject poverty. The global financial system is in total disarray. Worldwide, the rich-poor gap is increasing increasingly. Billions of tons of minerals and fossil fuels are being extracted from the earth each year, and billions of tons of waste and pollutants are being dumped back into the environment. Climate change, induced by global warming, is already impacting some human communities. Specific numbers are important, but recent growth patterns and their projected continuation are the main concern. It is impossible to predict the timing of forthcoming events, but it is reasonable to anticipate that infinite material growth in a finite planet is a mathematical impossibility.

    The above hypothesis on how economic growth dynamics unfold can be refined in many different ways. For instance, the following diagram includes only the economic growth loops (left portion of the diagram) to show additional investment loops on financial credit, job creation, technology development, and advertising. Now we have a multiplicity of positive feedback loops that reinforce each other and jointly reinforce human consumption, as in the following diagram:


    The following diagram represents the present world human system with added detail on job creation in conjunction with the economic growth process:


    Another way to expand the hypothesis is by including the financial growth loops whereby banks lend to industry and, in addition, lend to investors seeking financial gain for the sake of financial gain (i.e., nothing is produced or consumed). Such is the case, for example, when investor A borrows money from bank X at a given interest rate, then lends the money to investor B at a higher interest rate and pockets the additional gain. This kind of financial speculation activity (which is perfectly legal and facilitated by currencies no longer being under the gold or some other tangible resource standard) that may lead to financial bubbles and crises as happened recently in the USA and more recently in Europe. Consider the following diagram:


    The following diagram represents the present world human system with added detail on the financial dimension of the economic growth process:


    There is empirical evidence that total world population is now increasing decreasingly, so current economic conditions suggest focusing on the economic side of the sustainability paradox. The economic growth process is driven by growing consumer demand for additional material comfort in the form of goods and services. This induces decisions to invest for expansion of industrial capacity, new technologies, and more advertising. Banks reinforce investment by lending to investors, and also by lending to consumers eager to increase their per capita consumption, which is currently growing faster than population. Since the dollar and other currencies are no longer based on gold, banks also can lend for trading in derivatives and other "financial weapons of mass destruction." This unbriddled capital accumulation process, driven by short-term profits and a systematic discounting of the future, assumes that there can be infinite growth in a finite planet, and actually requires continued and unlimited growth to keep functioning. This is the essence of the sustainability paradox.


    The following diagram represents the future world human system:

    The positive signs indicate positive (self-reinforcing) feedback loops
    The negative signs indicate negative (self-correcting) feedback loops

    The new connectors at the top linking natural resources to population and consumption per capita create adaptation loops (dotted lines). As long as natural resources are not limiting, these loops remain inactive. When one or more natural resources (e.g., minerals, water, fossil fuels) become limiting, resource prices are bound to increase and adaptation must take place by limiting population growth, economic growth, or both. On the economic side, this entails reducing consumption, substituting one resource by another, or both.

    The new connectors at the bottom linking waste/pollution accumulation to human comfort (material or otherwise) are mitigation loops (dashed lines). As long as environmental degradation does not affect human comfort, these loops remain inactive. When the accumulation of pollutants is such that human well-being (material comfort, health, etc.) is impacted, the costs of environmental remediation are bound to increase and mitigation must take place by shifting priorities from comfort to survival.


    The following diagram represents the future world human system enhanced to show the vector of resource intensities, the matrix of inter-industry transactions, and the vector of emission factors:

    The positive signs indicate positive (self-reinforcing) feedback loops
    The negative signs indicate negative (self-correcting) feedback loops
    Intensity factors are in resource input units per unit of merchandise produced
    The input-output matrix is the Leontief matrix of interindustry transactions
    Emission factors are in emission output units per unit of merchandise consumed

    When the mitigation and adaptation loops are activated, analysis of possible trade-offs and substitutions will require an embedded inter-industry transactions matrix. How specificity of the analyzable trade-offs will be contingent on the granularity of industry decomposition captured by the input-output matrix. For instance, the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) divides GDP into 24 major industry sectors which in turn are decomposed into a total of 2228 industries. The web-based Economic Input-Output Life Cycle Assessment (EIO-LCA) at the Green Design Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, divides GDP into 27 "broad sector groups," each further decomposed into a number of "detailed sectors." See also the System of National Accounts (SNA), United Nations, 2009.


    The following diagram represents the future world human system further enhanced to show self-correcting environmental and financial management loops:

    The positive signs indicate positive (self-reinforcing) feedback loops
    The negative signs indicate negative (self-correcting) feedback loops
    Resource Value Taxes (RVT) are a function of natural resource depletion/deterioration
    Financial Transaction Taxes are a function of RVT and the volume of non-real financial assets
    RVT and FTT serve to reinforce job creation and employment opportunities

    The formulation of adaptation and mitigation policies will attempt to integrate several dimensions of scientific knowledge and human experience, including gender equality issues, in order to simulate some plausible (but by no means predictive) transition scenarios and trade-offs. For a detailed list of supporting references click here. Nothing is totally unrelated to sustainable human development, and there are many variations of any conceivable transition scenario. Some of the variations to be investigated are identified in the following section.


    The architecture of SDSIM 2.0 integrates the sustainability paradox into the transition strategy:

    P1, P2, and P3 are the positive population-industrial-financial loops
    which currently drive the sustainable development ("infinite growth") paradox
    E1, E2, and E3 are negative energy production-consumption and behavioral loops, and
    AMD stands for human adaptation-mitigation decisions in response to energy availability constraints

    This architecture is proposed as the simplest possible model to capture both the positive (self-reinforcing) feedback loops of the growth paradox and the negative (self-regulating) feedback loops that are bound to emerge during the transition. It is anticipated that dominance will gradually (or not so gradually) shift from the P loops to the E loops as the transition unfolds. The E loops can be generalized to include natural resources other than energy, but energy is the primary concern for SDSIM 2.0. Consideration of other resources, such as water and minerals, is planned for subsequent revisions of the architecture (SDSIM 2.1, 2.2, etc.). AMD is a function of material consumption, financial gain, and energy scarcity and serves to calculate the adaptation and mitigation decisions that are forced by economic and energy constraints. The inverse of AMD is being investigated as a possible model of social cohesion, or the collective capacity to make adaptation and mitigation decisions motivated by human development incentives as opposed to biophysical constraints.

    It is critical to take explicitly into account how people and governments will behave in response to changes in the mix of financial profitability and energy availability. What function could be used to model of how people will react to changes in financial profitability and energy scarcity in a given solidarity-sustainability culture? What would be the consequences for population growth (or decline), economic growth (or decline) and quality of life during the transition from consumerism to sustainability? These are the kind of questions to be investigated (via simulation experiments) with SDSIM 2.0. It is understood that social systems are more than closed-loop feedback structures no matter how highly refined the mathematical equations and parameter values. The intent of the SDSIM project is not to provide any final answers but simply to contribute, in some small way, to define more precisely the key questions that must be answered, in a broader context of practicality and wisdom, in order to attain the transition and avoid, to the extent possible, unnecessary human suffering in the process.


    The current SDSIM 2.0 is a demo, not a capability. For instance, the graph below is a simulation of world population, gross industrial production, average consumption per capita, energy availability, and social cohesion ("solidarity index") trends, during 200 years (1900-2100):


    Sustainable Development Simulation (SDSIM 2.0) from 1900 to 2100

    This simulation suggests that, toward the end of the 21st century, population and social cohesion are declining while GDP and per capita consumption are still rising even as energy availability is peaking. Is this leading to a steady-state economy at high levels of production and consumption? The next graph shows the same system simulated during 1000 years (1900-2900, as shown in the horizontal axis):


    Sustainable Development Simulation (SDSIM 2.0) from 1900 to 2900

    Due to significant time delays in adjusting population growth and resource consumption rates, and further delays in developing new technologies to "do more with less," the system goes into an extended period of oscillations in population and consumption levels. The amplitude of the oscillations seems to be gradually declining toward new steady-state levels of population and consumption, but at the expense of significant decline in social cohesion (fierce competition over increasingly scarce energy resources?). However, toward the end, drastic adjustments are induced by energy availability returning to the pre-1900 level, i.e., after a very long tail, all fossil fuel resources are finally exhausted.

    Extending the simulation for another 1,000 years (next plot), the calculations suggest that another transition would be needed before long-term stability is attained:


    Sustainable Development Simulation (SDSIM 2.0) from 1900 to 3900

    Beyond 2100, it would seem that the system is leading to steady-state albeit via a long series of oscillations of decreasing amplitude. However, after 2800 or so, energy availability is depleted to just above the 1900 level, or basically solar influx plus of minimum amount of energy from remaining fossil sources. Then, even if massive starvation is avoided by human adaptation, the system adjusts down to a much lower steady-state in terms of population, economic throughput, and "standard of living." Time will tell whether this will make social cohesion decline even further, or eventually induce a much higher level of solidarity (human capacity for virtue out of necessity?) as suggested by the simulation. It cannot be overemphasized that this is a simulation, not a prediction. The simulation simply shows that eventually the system must go back to an energetically sustainable steady-state.


    This is a simulated scenario, not a prediction. It portrays dynamic modes of behavior that can be expected during the transition from consumerism to sustainability. Both simulated time (horizontal axis) and simulated variables (vertical axis) can be adjusted without changing the fundamental patterns of growth, oscillations, and degrowth. During the transition, undoubtedly there will be noise due to short-tem social, economic, and ecological perturbations, but the overall patterns of peaks and valleys will persist in the long-term, as follows:

  • Population peaking, then oscillating and finally decreasing to a long-term sustainable level. Note time-phasing with GDP and per capita consumption of material goods and services.
  • The peak in energy availability is followed by a long decline until it settles to the steady-state flow that is allowed by solar (and perhaps other cosmic) sources of energy. The "long-tail" is the result technological developments with gradually decreasing return on energy invested.
  • The solidarity index is currently formulated as a nonlinear function of human population, material consumption, and energy flows. It is an indicator of social cohesion, which is tightly coupled with the sustainability of resource usage. Solidarity reinforces sustainability and vice versa.
  • The general patterns of peaks, oscillations, and eventual settling to steady-state are indicative of turbulence during the transition, with high risk of cultural disruptions and violence. The myth of "infinite growth in a finite planet" will not be easy to overcome.
  • This is not intended to be an "alarmist" scenario. However, it would be wise to take the Precautionary Principle into account when formulation sustainable development policies as we enter the Anthropocene Age. The past cannot be changed, and the future is unknown. The exact sequence and timing of events cannot be predicted, but the general transitional patterns can be anticipated on the basis of energy biophysics. Specifically, there is empirical evidence to the effect that:

    1. Fossil fuel resources are high in energy content but are not infinite.
    2. Fossil fuel emissions are environmentally detrimental and/or potentially unsafe.
    3. Currently known clean energy alternatives offer relatively low energy content.
    Given that fossil fuels are being depleted, pollution levels are damaging the environment, and clean energy alternatives may not provide enough energy to sustain industrial economies, is it wise to just continue doing "business as usual" and trusting that some earthshaking technological breakthrough will come to pass soon enough? Is it fair for people in the "developed" nations to keep indulging in energy consumption and waste while one billion people must subsist on $2 per day or less? How will population growth rate and per capita consumption change in response to impending resource constraints? Will demographic and consumption adjustments be voluntary or involuntary? If they are involuntary, there is a high risk of violence emerging in conjunction with fierce competition for resources throughout the world. Is this "the future we want"?

    Modeling and simulating the basic variables shown above is not easy but is feasible (as forty years of Limits to Growth analysis has amply demonstrated), and it is self-evident that natural resources (energetic and otherwise) currently being used are not infinite. It is also possible to quantify other physical variables such as polluting emissions, food availability, etc. The big challenge is to formulate mitigation and adaptation decision functions (the AMD node in the architecture diagram) that could reasonably mimic some plausible ways in which human behavior might change as quality of life is impacted and resource scarcities cannot be ignored any longer. Needless to say, the intent is not to be predict but "simply" to analyze, hopefully in a way that yields some useful insight. Easier said than done, as complex financial and cultural factors will come into play.

    The Human Development Index, the Environmental Performance Index, the Ecological Footprint, and other such metrics, are useful in the sense that they show the social and ecological impacts of past human decisions. However, they do not take into account how human behavior might change in response to forthcoming dynamics of the transition from consumerism to sustainability. It remains to be seen whether or not such functions can be formulated in a way that is reasonable and useful to enlighten the discussion.


    It is becoming increasingly clear that anthropogenic climate changes may be a critical factor forcing human behavior changes during the transition from consumerism to sustainability. A comprehensive model should, therefore, integrate the human and climate systems. In terms of feedback loop structures, the following series of articles may provide a basis for such enhancement of the simulations:

    8. Variations of the Integrated Transition Strategy

    In terms of the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy, there seems to be a convergence of outlook that is shared by business, agencies, and NGOs. This convergence is reflected in the UN IEA and US EIA scenarios. However, in terms off replacing fossil fuels with clean energy is a post-carbon world, the Paul Chefurka's scenario is the most "pessimistic" and Stuart Staniford's scenario is the most "optimistic." Actually, it is not a matter of being optimistic or pessimistic. The divergence between "best case" and "worst case" scenarios may be due different sets of explicit

    Source: Jack Alpert / YouTube, 19 September 2012
    assumptions about the timing of supply peaks for non-renewables and ramping up capacities for renewables plus different sets of implicit assumptions about human behavior and policy decisions in the context of an exceedingly complex system. Energy in some form is behind everything that moves, and there are many moving parts in industrial economies.

    In their recently published book, Energy and the Wealth of Nations, Hall and Klitgaard point out that discrediting economic theories that have served us well in the past serves no purpose. It is not a matter of choosing between classical economics, or neoliberal economics, or behavioral economics, or ecological economics, or biophysical economics. But, as they also point out, it is the separation of the biophysical and social dimensions of economics that renders either one useless in confronting newly emerging issues at the intersection of human behavior and physical flows. In every case, however, energy flows are the point of intersection between the behavioral and the physical dimensions, and it could well be that "economic energetics" is the key for integrating both and developing a new synthesis, as proposed long ago by (among others) economist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen and ecologist Howard T. Odum. In this regard, the "ecological economics" synthesis of Herman Daly deserves especial mention. Hall & Klitgaard's contribution is to isolate energy flows as the focal point for analysis (and hypothesis testing) via the "Energy Return on Investment" (EROI) index.

    For the current level of climate change mitigation technologies, it would seem that Staniford's scenario is too optimistic in assuming that the production of fossil fuels can be sustained and the planet can absorb the resulting accumulation of GHG emissions without potentially catastrophic climate disruptions. On the other hand, Chefurka's scenario may be too pessimistic and hopefully will not come pass as the human-impact implications would be severe. EIA's scenario seems to be the most plausible with current technologies and economic conditions. However, the emergence of radically new and economically feasible technologies cannot be ruled out, and there is always the need to plan for the worst case scenario. With this range of scenarios in mind, the following variations are being considered for modeling and analysis:

    • Variations in the desired "Quality of Life"
      • Variations in the perceived value of human solidarity
      • Variations in the perceived value of ecological sustainability
      • Variations in the combined value of human solidarity and ecological sustainability
    • Variations in the timing and duration of human adaptations
      • Variations in the human propensity to consume (volume, choices, fix vs replace
      • Variations in the human propensity to adapt (climate, migration, transportation)
      • Variations in the pace of progress in secular gender equity, equality, and balance
      • Variations in the pace of progress in religious gender equity, equality, and balance
    • Variations in the adaptability of the world financial system (speculation, regulation)
    • Variations in the resilience of the human habitat (pollution, climate, ecosystem services)
    • Variations in fossil fuel reserves and the timing of "peak oil"
    • Variations in the timing and intensity of climate changes
    • Variations in the performance, schedule, and cost of clean energy technologies
    • Variations in the EROI values of non-renewable and renewable energy sources
      • Variations in the EROI values for resource discovery
      • Variations in the EROI values for resource development
      • Variations in the EROI values for resource extraction
      • Variations in the EROI values for resource conversion during production
      • Variations in the EROI values for resource conversion during consumption
      • Variations in the EROI values for resource conversion during disposal
      • Variations in the EROI values for resource emissions during production
      • Variations in the EROI values for resource emissions during consumption
      • Variations in the EROI values for resource emissions during disposal

    Given the complexity and nonlinearity of complex ecological-economic systems, computer simulation methods are more promising for the analysis of dynamic modes of behavior related to both the "sustainability paradox" and the "sustainability paradigm" systems are diagrammed above. However, input-output analysis could be very useful to calculate specific interindustry propagations of energy resource substitutions within paradox/paradigm scenarios.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: These variations are to be formulated and explored with SDSIM 2.0 (to view SDSIM 1.5, click here).

    9. Strategic Data Sources & Global Transition Megatrends

    Listed below are links to the best data and knowledge sources in two categories: strategic data sources and global transition megatrends.


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