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.
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.
Pope Francis Explains 'Integral Human Development'
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.
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.
Today, much of the media and our most influential thought leaders have a blind faith that as-yet-undiscovered technologies can save us from overpopulation and ecological overshoot. With the likes of Elon Musk and other giants of Silicon Valley leading the way, belief in technological progress has assumed the contours of a civic religion. Plans for colonizing Mars, mining asteroids, and conducting planet-wide geo-engineering to combat climate change are all on the drawing board for dealing with our ecological overshoot. And their dreams and technological visions unfortunately garner more serious media attention than in-depth stories about overpopulation and our very real and down-to-earth ecological predicament.
But there is now mounting evidence – and hugely underreported evidence – that technological progress has actually been slowing in recent decades compared to earlier decades and centuries. That statement may seem wholly counter-intuitive to many readers, but I ask you to consider some of the building evidence supplied from technology reporters, economists, and scientists. As overpopulation activists we need to marshal the evidence and push back against those who believe that technology can save us from ecological overshoot and collapse.
Low-Hanging Fruit of Innovation
We all know about the “low-hanging fruit” principle as it applies to resource use: like any species we humans take the easiest, best resources first. Early European American settlers sod-busted 3-foot thick Iowa topsoil, felled the towering white pines of northern Minnesota and New England, fished the teeming fisheries of North Atlantic cod, tapped the gushing oil of Pennsylvania and Texas, and mined the richest ores. Now we’re left with Iowa topsoil reduced to half what it was 150 years ago, forests reduced to mono-crop tree plantations, fisheries depleted or collapsed, and land and water ravaged and abused in the search for harder-to-get oil and coal.
As economist Tyler Cowen notes in his 2011 book, The Great Stagnation, evidence is mounting that the “low-hanging fruit” principle also applies in the realm of human technical innovation. We first solve the easiest technical problems that deliver the greatest benefit at the lowest cost. Penicillin was discovered in 1928. It’s estimated to have saved 200 million lives, and it formed the basis for all modern antibiotics. The basic research cost less than $300,000 in today’s dollars! In contrast, the “war on cancer” has received over $105 billion from the U.S. government alone and the death rate, adjusted for the size and age of the population, has decreased by only 5 percent since 1950 (Kolata,2009).
Huge innovations that transformed daily life were carried out by Edison’s small group of researchers at Menlo Park. Life-changing technologies such as the incandescent light bulb, phonograph, movie camera, and electricity distribution came from this small team of researchers. Now, scientific and technological progress requires ever-larger teams of researchers working in interdisciplinary fashion with huge budgets. And, as the problems they’re attempting to solve become increasingly and incredibly complex, the resources required grow ever-larger.
Innovation in Bits, Not Atoms
The fact is that technological advancement of the past 40 years or so has occurred primarily in the realm of electronic bits. We’ve seen amazing advancements in all kinds of digital communications technologies. And yet in the world of matter – of atoms – we’ve seen precious little.
In transportation, we abandoned supersonic passenger airplane travel in the 1970’s, and if you’d told people in the late 1960’s that we’d no longer have human space missions they’d think you were crazy. Blockbuster drug discoveries are fewer and farther between and the cost of biomedical research and development continues to soar. Renewable energy technologies have increased at a rapid rate in recent years, but they supply only a small fraction of the world’s total power needs. Fossil fuels still supply over 80% of all global energy.
Global industrial civilization relies on massive amounts of renewable and non-renewable resources. Many “bright-green” believers in technology have faith that increased efficiency will translate into less consumption of resources. And yet a recent MIT study found the opposite. With nearly all the major 57 materials the researchers studied – from aluminum to silicon chips to solar panels – they found that more efficiency in production led to lower costs which, in turn, led to greater consumption.
The End of Moore’s Law
Most of the current dreams of the “internet of things”, driverless cars, widespread robotization and artificial intelligence are based on expectations of the silicon chip revolution continuing. In the world of silicon chips we’ve enjoyed a half century of nearly uninterrupted operation of Moore’s law – the tendency for the number of transistors on a silicon chip to double every two or so years with a dramatic decrease in cost. John Markoff, decades-long technology reporter with the New York Times, notes that “It is hard to overstate the importance of Moore’s Law to the entire world.”
Now, even in the realm of digital technologies, we are seeing diminishing returns in innovation. Over the past year many under-reported stories have appeared about the recent and rapid slowing of Moore’s law. As Markoff notes, “If you begin to pick it apart, the fundamental argument of Silicon Valley, it's all about this exponential acceleration that comes out of the semiconductor industry. I suddenly discovered it was over…In fact, things are slowing down. In 2045, it's going to look more like it looks today than you think.”
Are Ideas Getting Harder to Find?
That’s the question put by a team of Stanford and MIT economists when looking at the U.S. economy across a broad range of industries (Bloom, Jones, Van Reenen, and Webb, 2017). Their answer is yes: “We find that ideas – and in particular the exponential growth they imply – are getting harder and harder to find.” In areas where exponential growth is observed they find that this growth “results from large increases in research effort.” For example, in the silicon chip industry, the number of researchers required to achieve the doubling of chip density today is more than 75 times larger than the number of researchers required in the early 1970s.
The authors find that across many different industries research effort is rising substantially while research productivity is declining sharply. The researchers conclude that “just to sustain constant growth in GDP per person, the U.S. must double the amount of research effort searching for new ideas every 13 years to offset the increased difficulty of finding new ideas."
We can’t afford doubling the resources given to research efforts every 13 years for the simple fact that we can’t all be researchers. Someone has to grow the food, tend the sick, teach the children and do all the thousands of other jobs necessary for life in modern societies. And, on top of that, much of the developed world is faced with a maintenance crisis of crumbling infrastructure that requires enormous resources just to maintain what we already have. We simply won’t be able to afford the ever-increasing amount of resources required to push the technology frontier forward.
We need Social Innovation, not Technical Innovation
As overpopulation activists we need to question the dominant narrative of the broader culture that seems to worship a lazy technological “optimism” – an almost child-like faith that technological miracles can deliver us from ecological overshoot and collapse.
If technological innovation is slowing, as much evidence suggests, then we must rely more than ever on social innovation to create a sustainable future.
Technology can’t save us. Solving overpopulation can. Smaller families and a smaller global human population are essential if we want to create a future worth inheriting.
3. Mitigation of Habitat Degradation & Climate Change
Paris Accord: Quantitatively Trivial Impact + Intense Political Symbolism
Originally published by
Climate Etc., 4 June 2017 under a Creative Commons License
Over the past week, I’ve read over a hundred articles related to Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord. I was vaguely wondering how to summarize my thoughts on all this in a blog post, when I spotted this from Bill Hooke’s blog Living On the Real World:
QTIIPS stands for Quantitatively Trivial Impact + Intense Political Symbolism. – Keith Hennessey
Excerpts from Hennessey’s post:
QTIIPS policy changes provoke fierce political battles over trivially small policy impacts. Passionate advocates on both sides ignore numbers and policy details while fighting endlessly about symbols.
A policy change is QTIIPS if:
its direct measurable effects are quite small relative to the underlying policy problem to be solved;
it is viewed both by supporters and opponents as a first step toward an end state that all agree would be quite a large change;
supporters and opponents alike attach great significance to the direction of the change, as a precursor to possible future movement toward that quantitatively significant end goal; and
a fierce political battle erupts over the symbolism of this directional shift. This political battle is often zero-sum, unresolvable, and endless.
The national leaders who supported Paris, including President Obama, had a political interest in overselling their policy accomplishment. Similarly, President Trump has a political interest in selling today’s move to his base as an enormous policy win, when to me it appears he is nullifying American participation in an agreement that on policy grounds was insignificant to begin with.
Climate change watch/warning
Bill Hooke makes an important argument in his Paris post using an analogy to hurricane warnings.
A quick aside: the reason that I have been so busy recently with few blog posts is owing to the start of the hurricane season, which is a very busy time for my company Climate Forecast Applications Network. Later this week, we will be issuing our first seasonal forecast for Atlantic hurricane activity — stay tuned.
Excerpts from Bill Hooke’s post:
[T]he Paris Climate Agreement mimics the approach of meteorologists, emergency managers, political and business leaders, and various publics to an approaching/developing hurricane.
At a hurricane’s earliest stages, no one knows whether its intensification and landfall will pose a real threat or not – and to whom. At the same time, there’s no wasted energy prematurely debating any of that, or getting emotional or top-down prescriptive about it. Instead, all participants at all levels and all locations individually begin making whatever initial preparations they feel appropriate in light of their own perceived vulnerability and options. At the same time, everyone engages in watch-and-warn.
And here’s the best part: the response is incremental. If the hurricane intensifies, the response develops commensurately. As the threat to a particular city or coastline rises, so do preparations. But where and if the threat diminishes, those preparing stand down. Rarely (especially as forecasts have improved) is the response inadequate or disproportionate.
Note that the key, the essential part, is also the inexpensive part: the watch and warn. It costs little to field the observations – the satellites and the radars, the surface in situinstruments, etc. to monitor conditions and their changes; to assimilate the data into variety of numerical models, to run these and form ensemble averages; to disseminate the findings. That’s true for both hurricanes and climate change. It’s essential that we not fly blind into this uncertain future.
One important addition has to be made in the climate-change version of this approach. When it comes to hurricanes, the world gets many occasions to practice: dozens each and every year, broadly scattered worldwide. By contrast, with respect to climate change, there hasn’t been the same opportunity for trial-and-error learning. That’s where research – not just on physical workings of the atmosphere and oceans but also on ecological processes and the social science of human response come in. That research is essential to effective risk reduction; it too is inexpensive.
Anticipating climate change? Responding commensurately? Without the drama? What’s not to like?
JC comments: While I really like the points Bill Hooke is making, I don’t see the Paris Agreement in watch and warn mode — it is about alarm, its already causing harm, and is implementing very expensive measures at the first ambiguous signs of harm.
There is certainly the possibility of substantial harm from AGW on the timescale of the 21st century, although this is arguably not a global ruin problem. We should be in ‘watch’ mode, sort of like the beginning of hurricane season, no individual storms in sight but we have reason to believe that something will happen. It’s essential that we not fly blind into this uncertain future.
Refocusing the solutions
Why is international policy focused on immediate, expensive changes to the global energy infrastructure using inadequate technologies, and a $100B climate fund that focuses on the blame game rather than addressing the real problems in the developing world?
The proponents of reducing CO2 as an urgent issue to be dealt with to ‘save the climate and the planet’ simply don’t walk the talk. They rack up the frequent flyer miles flying around to proseletize, while working to block nuclear power, natural gas pipelines and fracking, all of which reduce CO2 emissions. How urgent do they really think this problem is? Or is this simply political posturing?
Further, the angst over the $100B climate fund seems beyond ironic. See my previous posts:
A better focus would be on working to ensure adequate food, water and energy, particularly in the developing world, and to reduce vulnerability to extreme weather events.
While I make no pretense at any particular wisdom in understanding complex geopolitics, the current trajectory of the Paris Climate Agreement is not going to change the Earth’s climate in any meaningful way.
We need to better understand the dynamics of climate of change and extreme weather events. And we need a broader solution space for dealing with weather and climate related vulnerabilities.
If given the choice between ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’ energy, nearly everyone would prefer ‘clean’ provided that all other things are equal — energy security and reliability, and cost. Research and development into new technologies, and regional/local experiments with different mixes of energy technologies will result in improved energy solutions.
The challenge is to redirect the political angst over this issue into productive directions that increase the well being of humans and ecosystems.
4. Adaptation to Habitat Degradation & Climate Change
PER CAPITA OIL
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.
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.
AMERICANS ARE THE NUMBER ONE OIL CONSUMERS
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.
HOW MUCH TIME DO WE HAVE LEFT
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).
USING "PER CAPITA OIL" TO HELP US UNDERSTAND
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.
LOWER PRICES AND GROWING U.S. DEBT EQUALS LESS DEMAND
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.
U.S. GASOLINE RATIONING, SO ALL AMERICANS WILL EQUITABLY SHARE MITIGATION OF THE END OF THE OIL
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.
POPULATION GROWTH, THE DENOMINATOR IN PER CAPITA OIL
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.
OTHER SUBJECTS DIRECTLY RELATED TO 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.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE
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".
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.
All too often, critics speak of
neoliberalism as a coercive, external force lying somewhere ‘out there’ in the
political landscape. But many of us increasingly and voluntarily govern our
lives in a manner mirroring the logic of the market. Is it any wonder, then, that
this ideology has become so naturalised, and the alternatives so hard to see?
Neoliberalism is an elusive term,
typically used to describe such processes as privatisation, deregulation, the cutting
back of social and welfare provision, the retraction of the state, and the
idealisation of free-markets: ideas thought to have been born in the minds of scholars in Paris in the 1930s
before they emerged as a political reality in the 1970s.
But this definition ignores the fact
that this movement has dug its ideological roots deep inside each one of us.
Neoliberal rationalities are both political
and psychological, serving to createa
utopian free-market order with the power of the state and to extend this logic
to every corner of society. As the sociologist Loïc Wacquant puts it, neoliberalism represents an “articulation
of state, market and citizenship that harnesses the first to impose the stamp
of the second onto the third.”
Early neoliberal theorizing recognised
that creating an environment that cultivates Darwinian-like competition actually
requires a far broader set of rules. Thus, a key aspect of
neoliberalism is not so much the rolling-back of regulation, but the type of
society the rolling-out of state power is designed to
uphold: striving to preserve whatever unequal distributions of talent and
capabilities we are born with and whatever good or bad luck happens upon us
through the chaos of life; frantically trying to fabricate an illusion of a level
playing field; and disciplining those that break the rules or don’t even want to play.
But neoliberal theory didn’t only reject
the earlier economic liberals’ belief that competitive free-markets emerge in a
spontaneous natural order; it also extended this logic to the personal level,
to the citizen, concluding that the rational, self-interested individual at the
heart of neoclassical economics doesn’t ‘naturally’ emerge either. This gave
rise to an even more active and insidious project to cultivate citizens who seek
to compete in every aspect of their lives, chillingly captured by Margaret
Thatcher in 1981 with her infamous statement: “Economics is the
method; the object is to change the heart and soul.”
As property, people become devoid of
notions such as duty, compassion and solidarity. They gain an artificial sense
from other people and from the ecology that supports all life, and seek fulfilment
in increased wealth and consumption—a way of living that Aristotle and
Siddhartha (the Buddha) would have dismissed thousands of years ago as thoroughly
as any modern critic.
But within Neoliberalism there’s a
shift: the world is no longer perceived simply as property to be consumed, but as
an opportunity to be captured in order to increase returns to financial, social
or human capital—a trickle down of capitalist rationality without a trickle down of wealth.
As a result, people become not only separated
from each other and ‘nature’ in space, but also projected
in time in a process of constant self-improvement, self-investment
and the efficient application of one’s bundle-of-skills to maximize future
returns. Crucially, this doesn’t just mean commodification, which is essential for capitalism's survival,
but also the economisation of areas
of human society in which no formal commodities are found. Thus, traditional
non-market social norms are displaced by the cold-hearted, means-ends calculus
of efficiency, investment, productivity, growth, costs and benefits, and
calculated exchange—and along the way the quest for happiness is inverted: want
to get rich?Get happy first.
What was once merely theory is now
widely practiced. The neoliberal vision of the citizen was first made explicit
in the abstract idea of human capital, but now it’s exemplified in
more concrete ways every time volunteering in Africa is construed as a great
thing to have on your CV; or when nine out of ten
arguments for fighting patriarchy in the boardroom are appeals to efficiency; or where
morning raves are promoted for their ability to improve productivity at work; or when the first
thing on a list of 21 reasons to have sex is looking younger. Neoliberal rationality has
become stunningly efficient at reproducing itself.
We can use Google Ngrams
to visualise how this collective psychology has swept through society by tracking
the frequency with which different words and phrases have been used in
English-language books since the 19th century. By carefully selecting words and
phrases that we encounter on a daily basis and which embody the spirit of
neoliberal rationality, we find some fascinating patterns emerging near the
beginning of the 1970s.
For example, there has been an explosion
in usage of the phrase ‘sell yourself’—an unsettling sign of the
way in which we have learnt to speak of ourselves in the language of the market. Now, we’re even
encouraged to sell ourselves on our first dates. It’s as if we have abolished
slavery only to replace it with a system of entirely voluntary
self-commodification. Aside from the relatively chilled-out decade of the 1960s, time has also become a
commodity that we buy, and in which we invest.
Politicians and policy makers make endless
attempts to align self-interest with more desirable social or environmental
outcomes (rather than appealing to collective responsibilities), a shift that’s
manifested in the rapidly-expanding discourse around incentives. And the increasing usage of
phrases like ‘it’s none of your (or my) business’ in contexts
in which nothing is actually bought or sold shows how the idea of managing life
as an entrepreneur has taken hold. Even in fervently anti-neoliberal writings we hear such
phrases as ‘bang on the money’ applied to ideas about social justice.
Despite the tendency to see so much of personal,
social and economic life as a calculated investment for future returns, contemporary
societies don’t appear to have significantly increased their capabilities for
solving their long-term problems. Threats such as climate change, exhausted food production
systems and water supplies, antibiotic resistance, economic
collapse, and the arms race remain mostly un-mitigated. So why do we still fail
to react properly to such threats?
It appears that our lives have become
almost permanently projected into a place lying somewhere between the present
and the future. Our hopes, dreams, and quests for a meaningful existence are
cast into a space in time that never actually arrives. It’s as if we’ve
fabricated a kind-of secular afterlife—an imaginary destination that justifies
the struggles of the present—although, unlike religious afterlives, this is one
that we have to believe we’ll reach before our deaths.
These psychological impacts also seem
deeply problematic in themselves. By cultivating the antithesis of a mindful,
grounded way of living, it’s no wonder that we now hear talk of epidemics of depression, demoralisation, narcissism and other psychological
disorders. But perhaps such issues have been breeding for far longer than the
word ‘epidemic’ implies. Authors like Charles Eisenstein argue that a process of
separation between people and nature began with the development of agriculture thousands
of years ago, developing via the separation of the Gods from withinnatureto become
forces of nature themselves, extending
into the notion of human dominance over the natural world, and culminating in
the neoliberal idea that we are not only separate from nature and each other
but from our present selves.
Today, there does at least appear to be
a growing recognition of the need to counter these trends, as evidenced by the
surge of interest in mindfulness and meditation, which are becoming increasingly
demystified by a growing body of scientific research. Predictably, the
response of capitalism has been to appropriate these practices and direct them
towards productivity and profits, nicely captured by Google’s ‘head of mindfulness training’ in
a brand new neoliberal aphorism: “mindfulness
opens the doorway to loving kindness, which is at the heart of business success.”
But the contradiction between the
projected, atomised self of neoliberalism and the grounded egolessness of mindfulness
is glaring. Business managers may believe that investing
time in meditation will “pay dividends”
in the form of increased employee productivity and reduced healthcare costs,
but could a truly mindful consumer
or investment banker ever exist? Perhaps such cultural appropriations will prove
fatal to the psychological basis of neoliberal capitalism itself.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joel Millward-Hopkins is a postdoctoral research associate in environmental sciences and economics at the University of Leeds, attempting to resist the neoliberal, elitist, and monodisciplinary tendencies of academia. He wishes to thank Julia Steinberger for valuable feedback on this article.
A heated debate in the pages of one of the country’s most renowned scientific journals has gained national attention. The debate is over whether a combination of wind, solar, and hydroelectricity could fully power the U.S. But both sides of the debate are completely missing half of the equation.
In a series of papers published over the last few years, Mark Jacobson of Stanford University (along with co-authors) has offered a series of transition plans for achieving a 100 percent wind-solar-hydro energy economy. These include comprehensive blueprints for the United States, for each individual state, and for the world as a whole. His message is clear: such a transition is not only possible, it’s affordable—cheaper, in fact, than maintaining the current fossil fueled system. There is no technical or economic barrier to an all-renewable future—only a political one, resulting from the enormous influence of fossil fuel companies on Congress and the White House. Jacobson’s plans have been touted by celebrities (Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo) and at least one prominent politician (Bernie Sanders).
However, during the past two years a group of scientists unconvinced by Jacobson’s arguments has labored to craft a critical review of his plans, and to get it published in the same journal that printed Jacobson’s own most-cited paper. They voice a concern that the growing popularity of Jacobson’s plans could lead to critical mistakes in policy making and investment choices. The lead author, Christopher Clack, and his 20 co-authors, attack Jacobson’s assumptions and highlight what they call serious modeling errors. Much of their criticism has to do with Jacobson’s ways of getting around solar and wind power’s most notorious drawback—its intermittency. Jacobson says we can deal with cloudy and windless days by storing energy in the forms of underground heat and hydrogen. Clack et al. point out that doing so on the scale Jacobson is proposing is unprecedented (therefore, we really don’t know if it can be done), and also argue that Jacobson made crucial errors in estimating how much storage would be needed and how much it would cost.
The stakes in this controversy are high enough that the New York Times and other mainstream media have reported on it. One pro-renewables scientist friend of mine despairs not just because of bad press about solar and wind power, but also because the reputation of science itself is taking a beating. If these renowned energy experts can’t agree on whether solar and wind power are capable of powering the future, then what are the implications for the credibility of climate science?
Jacobson and colleagues have published what can only be called a take-no-prisoners rebuttal to Clack et al. In it, they declare that, “The premise and all error claims by Clack et al. . . . about Jacobson et al. . . . are demonstrably false.” In a separate article, Jacobson has dismissed Clack and his co-authors as “nuclear and fossil fuel supporters,” though it’s clear that neither side in this debate is anti-renewables.
However, Clack et al. have issued their own line-by-line response to Jacobson’s line-by-line rebuttal, and it’s fairly devastating.
This is probably a good place to point out that David Fridley, staff scientist in the energy analysis program at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, and I recently published a book, Our Renewable Future, exploring a hypothetical transition to a 100 percent wind-and-solar energy economy. While we don’t say so in the book, we were compelled to write it partly because of our misgivings about Mark Jacobson’s widely publicized plans. We did not attack those plans directly, as Clack et al. have done, but sought instead to provide a more nuanced and realistic view of what a transition to all-renewable energy would involve.
Our exploration of the subject revealed that source intermittency is indeed a serious problem, and solving it becomes more expensive and technically challenging as solar-wind generation approaches 100 percent of all electricity produced. A further challenge is that solar and wind yield electricity, but 80 percent of final energy is currently used in other forms—mostly as liquid and gaseous fuels. Therefore the energy transition will entail enormous changes in the ways we use energy, and some of those changes will be technically difficult and expensive.
Our core realization was that scale is the biggest transition hurdle. This has implications that both Jacobson et al., and Clack et al. largely ignore. Jacobson’s plan, for example, envisions building 100,000 times more hydrogen production capacity than exists today. And the plan’s assumed hydro expansion would require 100 times the flow of the Mississippi River. If, instead, the United States were to aim for an energy system, say, a tenth the size of its current one, then the transition would be far easier to fund and design.
When we start our transition planning by assuming that future Americans will use as much energy as we do now (or even more of it in the case of economic growth), then we have set up conditions that are nearly impossible to design for. And crucially, that conclusion still holds if we add nuclear power (which is expensive and risky) or fossil fuels (which are rapidly depleting) to the mix. The only realistic energy future that David Fridley and I were able to envision is one in which people in currently industrialized countries use far less energy per capita, use it much more efficiently, and use it when it’s available rather than demanding 24/7/365 energy services. That would mean not doing a lot of things we are currently doing (e.g., traveling in commercial aircraft), doing them on a much smaller scale (e.g., getting used to living in smaller spaces and buying fewer consumer products—and ones built to be endlessly repaired), or doing them very differently (e.g., constructing buildings and roads with local natural materials).
If powerdown—that is, focusing at least as much on the demand side of the energy equation as on the supply side—were combined with a deliberate and humanely guided policy of population decline, there would be abundant beneficial side effects. The climate change crisis would be far easier to tackle, as would ongoing loss of biodiversity and the depletion of resources such as fresh water, topsoil, and minerals.
Jacobson has not embraced a powerdown pathway, possibly because he assumes it would not appeal to film stars and politicians. Clack et al. do not discuss it either, mostly because their task at hand is simply to demolish Jacobson. But powerdown, the pathway about which it is seemingly not permissible for serious people to speak, is what we should all be talking about. That’s because it is the most realistic way to get to a sustainable, happy future.
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:
INTEGRATED TRANSITION STRATEGY - PROCESS VIEW
The following is a conceptual diagram of the sustainable development process:
Bounded Population-Economic-Ecological System for Sustainable Human Development
Prosperity without Growth, Tim Jackson, 2011, Figure 12.1, Page 195
BASIC ARCHITECTURE FOR SDSIM 2.0
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.
INTEGRATED TRANSITION STRATEGY - PHASES VIEW
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.
INTEGRATED TRANSITION STRATEGY - SYSTEM VIEW
SYSTEM VIEW OF THE SUSTAINABILITY PARADOX
The following diagram represents the present world human system:
THE SUSTAINABILITY PARADOX
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.
SYSTEM VIEW OF THE SUSTAINABILITY PARADOX
WITH SUPERIMPOSED TRENDS
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:
THE SUSTAINABILITY PARADOX WITH SUPERIMPOSED TRENDS
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:
SYSTEM VIEW OF THE SUSTAINABILITY PARADOX
WITH MULTIPLE ECONOMIC GROWTH & JOB CREATION LOOPS
The following diagram represents the present world human system with added detail on job creation in conjunction with the economic growth process:
THE SUSTAINABILITY PARADOX WITH MULTIPLE ECONOMIC GROWTH & JOB CREATION LOOPS
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:
SYSTEM VIEW OF THE SUSTAINABILITY PARADOX
WITH MULTIPLE FINANCIAL GROWTH LOOPS
The following diagram represents the present world human system with added detail on the financial dimension of the economic growth process:
THE SUSTAINABILITY PARADOX WITH MULTIPLE FINANCIAL GROWTH LOOPS
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.
SYSTEM VIEW OF THE SUSTAINABILITY PARADIGM
The following diagram represents the future world human system:
THE SUSTAINABILITY PARADIGM
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.
SYSTEM VIEW OF THE SUSTAINABILITY PARADIGM WITH EMBEDDED INPUT-OUTPUT MATRIX
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 SUSTAINABILITY PARADIGM WITH EMBEDDED INPUT-OUTPUT MATRIX
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
SYSTEM VIEW OF THE SUSTAINABILITY PARADIGM WITH PROPOSED
RESOURCE VALUE TAXES (RVT) AND FINANCIAL TRANSACTION TAXES (FTT)
The following diagram represents the future world human system further enhanced to show self-correcting environmental and financial management loops:
THE SUSTAINABILITY PARADIGM WITH ENVIRONMENTAL & FINANCIAL 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.
SDSIM 2.0 ARCHITECTURE
The architecture of SDSIM 2.0 integrates the sustainability paradox into the transition strategy:
SDSIM 2.0 ARCHITECTURE (WORK IN PROGRESS)
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.
SOME PRELIMINARY SIMULATIONS
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):
SDSIM 2.0 BASELINE SCENARIO
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.
SUMMARY OF BASELINE SCENARIO
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.
INTEGRATION OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT AND CLIMATE DYNAMICS
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:
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 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).
8. Emerging Patterns of Conscious Cultural Evolution
Seeing the Hidden Patterns of Culture
Originally published by
Medium, 15 August 2017 under a Creative Commons License
Often the most important things are invisible—we simply don’t have eyes to see. Feel the wind on your cheek and something undetectable to the human eye has been perceived. But what of the cultural patterns that have been invisible to us? How can we learn to see them?
In 2016, most professional media commentators didn’t see the upwell of support for Donald Trump. They also didn’t see how deeply conflicted the U.S. citizenry was about Hillary Clinton. These patterns were there for anyone who knew how to look for them, but were beyond the scope of analysis revealed by traditional polling or the standard tools of political science. Yet they proved to be very real come election day!
Similarly, the meshwork of relationships on social media are largely invisible to us. We cannot see who is connected to whom or how information cascades across our networks as we like and share each others’ posts. Yet these patterns too are very real.
The spread of email viruses made visible. See here for details.
There are social contagion effects as ideas spread with the same mathematical patterns as bacteria and viruses during a disease epidemic. This was seen with the global dispersal of “memes” during Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring. Or in the spread of news about the death of Osama Bin Laden.
Some researchers who study the evolution of language have even mapped out how they spread throughout history as part of the complex interplay of rising and collapsing empires, mass migrations, and pioneering exploration. These invisible fossils have been recreated by digitizing written text and mining it for patterns that would otherwise be impossible to see.
Tracing the movement of word sounds throughout history as part of human migration.
What other patterns of culture remain invisible today? And how might we go about learning how to see them? This is a question I ask as part of the team creating the Cultural Evolution Society—which now has 2,000 members in more than 50 countries who share a diverse methodological toolkit that includes Darwinian evolution as a framework for making sense of cultural change. Our first conference is scheduled for next month at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History where a gathering of researchers from anthropology, archeology, biology, psychology, primate studies, digital humanities, and more will come together and begin to map out all that is now known about cultural evolutionary studies.
The “Grand Challenges” for Cultural Evolution from a survey of our members. See here for more.
I am writing this article to prompt you to think about which cultural patterns YOU would like to make visible. Do you want to see the effects of runaway global warming on coastal cities? How hate groups arise during times of political struggle? Where the deep drivers of violence come from for the epidemic of mass shootings in the United States? There are so many cultural patterns that shape our lives—yet they remain invisible to us because we don’t have the eyes necessary to see them.
deluge of data alongside visualization tools that can be used to analyze and make their relationships understandable to the untrained eye. As the graphics throughout this article show, there is great power in visualized data and with this power comes new horizons of possibility for seeing and acting upon a rapidly changing world.
As I’ve argued elsewhere, we are living through an unprecedented time in human history. And the study of cultural evolution is more vital to our survival than most of us realize. So I invite you on this learning journey with me. Together, we can practice seeing the dynamics of culture with the tools available in 21st Century social sciences that map out networks, reconstruct historical patterns of development, and simulate interactions using computational models and visual tools.
Onward, fellow humans.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joe Brewer is co-founder and research director of Culture2 Inc., a culture design lab for social good. He is a former fellow of the Rockridge Institute, a think tank founded by George Lakoff to analyze political discourse for the progressive movement. (from Common Dream) More at Culture2 Inc.
The book’s strengths are many, starting with the accessibility of Raworth’s prose. Whether she is discussing the changing faces of economic orthodoxy, the caricature that is homo economicus, or the importance of according non-monetized activities their proper recognition, Raworth keeps things admirably clear.
Doughnut Economics makes a great crash course in promising new approaches to economics. In Raworth’s own words, her work “draws on diverse schools of thought, such as complexity, ecological, feminist, institutional and behavioural economics.” Yet the integration of ecological economics into her framework is incomplete, leading to a frustratingly unimaginative concluding chapter on economic growth.
Laying the groundwork for that discussion of economic growth has resulted in an article about three times as long as most of my posts, so here is the ‘tl;dr’ version:
Continued exponential economic growth is impossible, but the S-curve of slowing growth followed by a steady state is not the only other alternative. If the goal is maintaining GDP at the highest possible level, then the S-curve is the best case scenario, but in today’s world that isn’t necessarily desirable or even possible.
The central metaphor
Full disclosure: for as long as I can remember, the doughnut has been my least favourite among refined-sugar-white-flour-and-grease confections. So try as I might to be unbiased, I was no doubt predisposed to react critically to Raworth’s title metaphor.
What is the Doughnut? As Raworth explains, the Doughnut is the picture that emerged when she sketched a “safe space” between the Social Foundation necessary for prosperity, and the Ecological Ceiling beyond which we should not go.
Source: Doughnut Economics, page 38
There are many good things to be said about this picture. It affords a prominent place to both the social factors and the ecological factors which are essential to prosperity, but which are omitted from many orthodox economic models. The picture also restores ethics, and the choosing of goals, to central roles in economics.
Particularly given Raworth’s extensive background in development economics, it is easy to understand the appeal of this diagram.
But I agree with Ugo Bardi (here and here) that there is no particular reason the diagram should be circular – Shortfall, Social Foundation, Safe and Just Space, Ecological Ceiling and Overshoot would have the same meaning if arranged in horizontal layers rather than in concentric circles.
From the standpoint of economic analysis, I find it unhelpful to include a range of quite dissimilar factors all at the same level in the centre of the diagram. A society could have adequate energy, water and food without having good housing and health care – but you couldn’t have good housing and health care without energy, water and food. So some of these factors are clearly preconditions for others.
Likewise, some of the factors in the centre of the diagram are clearly and directly related to “overshoot” in the outer ring, while others are not. Excessive consumption of energy, water, or food often leads to ecological overshoot, but you can’t say the same about “excessive” gender equality, political voice, or peace and justice.
Beyond these quibbles with the Doughnut diagram, I further agree with Bardi that a failure to incorporate biophysical economics is the major weakness of Doughnut Economics. In spite of her acknowledgment of the pioneering work of Herman Daly, and a brief but lucid discussion of the work of Robert Ayres and Benjamin Warr showing that fossil fuels have been critical for the past century’s GDP growth, Raworth does not include energy supply as a basic determining factor in economic development.
Economists as spin doctors
Raworth makes clear that key doctrines of economic orthodoxy often obscure rather than illuminate economic reality. Thus economists in rich countries extoll the virtues of free trade, though their own countries relied on protectionism to nurture their industrial base.
Likewise standard economic modeling starts with a reductionist “homo economicus” whose decisions are always based on rational pursuit of self-interest – even though behavioral science shows that real people are not consistently rational, and are motivated by co-operation as much as by self-interest. Various studies indicate, however, that economics students and professors show a greater-than-average degree of self-interest. And for those who are already wealthy but striving to become wealthier still, it is comforting to believe that everyone is similarly self-interested, and that their self-interest works to the good of all.
When considering a principle of mainstream economics, then, it makes sense to ask: what truths does this principle hide, and for whose benefit?
Unfortunately, when it comes to GDP growth as the accepted measure of a healthy economy, Raworth leaves out an important part of the story.
The concept of Gross Domestic Product has its roots in the 1930s, when statisticians were looking for ways to quantify economic activity, making temporal trends easier to discern. Simon Kuznets developed a way to calculate Gross National Product – the total of all income generated worldwide by US residents.
As Raworth stresses, Kuznets himself was clear that his national income tally was a very limited way of measuring an economy.
Emphasising that national income captured only the market value of goods and services produced in an economy, he pointed out that it therefore excluded the enormous value of goods and services produced by and for households, and by society in the course of daily life. … And since national income is a flow measure (recording only the amount of income generated each year), Kuznets saw that it needed to be complemented by a stock measure, accounting for the wealth from which it was generated ….” (Doughnut Economics, page 34; emphasis mine)
The distinction between flows and stocks is crucial. Imagine a simple agrarian nation which uses destructive farming methods to work its rich land. For a number of years it may earn increasingly high income – the flow – though its wealth-giving topsoil – the stock – is rapidly eroding. Is this country getting richer or poorer? Measured by GDP alone, this economy is healthy as long as current income grows; no matter that the topsoil, and future prospects, are blowing away in the wind.
In the years immediately preceding and following World War II, GDP became the primary measure of economic health, and it became political and economic orthodoxy that GDP should grow every year. (To date no western leader has ever campaigned by promising “In my first year I will increase GDP by 3%, in my second year by 2%, in my third year it will grow by 1%, and by my fourth year I will have tamed GDP growth to 0!”)
What truth does this reliance on GDP hide, and for whose benefit? The answers are fairly obvious, in my humble opinion: a myopic focus on GDP obscured the inevitability of resource depletion, for the benefit of the fossil fuel and automative interests who dominated the US economy in the mid-twentieth century.
For context, in 1955 the top ten US corporations by number of employees included: General Motors, Chrysler, Standard Oil of New Jersey, Amoco, Goodyear and Firestone. (Source: 24/7 Wall St)
In 1960, the top ten largest US companies by revenue included General Motors, Exxon, Ford, Mobil, Gulf Oil, Texaco, and Chrysler. (Fortune 500)
These companies, plus the steel companies that made sheet metal for cars and the construction interests building the rapidly-growing network of roads, were clear beneficiaries of a new way of life that consumed ever-greater quantities of fossil fuels.
In the decades after World War II, the US industrial complex threw its efforts into rapid exploitation of energy reserves, along with mass production of machines that would burn that energy as fast as it could be pulled out of the ground. This transformation was not a simple result of “the invisible hand of the free market”; it relied on the enthusiastic collaboration of every level of government, from local zoning boards, to metropolitan transit authorities, to state and federal transportation planners.
But way back then, was it politically necessary to distract people from the inevitability of resource depletion?
The Peak Oil movement in the 1930s
From the very beginnings of the petroleum age, there were prominent voices who saw clearly that exponential growth in use of a finite commodity could not go on indefinitely.
One such voice was William Jevons, now known particularly for the “Jevons Paradox”. In 1865 he argued that since coal provided vastly more usable energy than industry had previously been able to harness, and since this new-found power was the very foundation of modern industrial civilization, it was particularly important to a nation to prudently manage supplies:
Describing the novel social experience that coal and steam power had created, the experience that today we would call ‘exponential growth’, in which practically infinite values are reached in finite time, Jevons showed how quickly even very large stores of coal might be depleted.” (Timothy Mitchell, Carbon Democracy, pg 129)
In the 1920s petroleum was the new miracle energy source, but thoughtful geologists and economists alike realized that as a finite commodity, petroleum could not fuel infinite growth.
Marion King Hubbert was a student in 1926, but more than sixty years later he still recalled the eye-opening lesson he received when a professor asked pupils to consider the implications of ongoing rapid increases in the consumption of coal and oil resources.
As Mason Inman relates in his excellent biography of Hubbert,
When a quantity grows by a constant percentage each year, its history forms a straight line on a semilogarithmic graph. Hubbert plotted the points for coal, year after year, and found a fairly straight line that persisted for several decades: a continual growth rate of around 6 percent a year. At that rate, the production doubled about every dozen years. When he looked at this graph, it was obvious to him that such rapid growth could persist for decades – his graph showed that had already happened – but couldn’t continue forever.” (The Oracle of Oil, 2016, pg 19)
Hubbert soon learned that there were many others who shared his concerns. This thinking coalesced in the 1930s in a very popular movement known as Technocracy. They argued that wealth depended primarily not on the circulation of money, but on the flow of energy.
The leaders of Technocracy, including Hubbert, were soon speaking to packed houses and were featured in cover stories in leading magazines. Hubbert was also tasked with producing a study guide that interested people could work through at home.
In the years prior to the Great Depression, people had become accustomed to economic growth of about 5% per year. Hubbert wanted people to realize it made no sense to take that kind of growth for granted.
“It has come to be naively expected by our business men and their apologists, the economists, that such a rate of growth was somehow inherent in the industrial processes,” Hubbert wrote. But since Earth and its physical resources are finite, he said, infinite growth is an impossibility.
In short, Technocracy pointed out that the fossil fuel age was likely to be a flash in the pan, historically speaking – unless the nation’s fuel reserves were managed carefully by engineers who understood energy efficiency and depletion.
Without sensible accounting and allocation of the true sources of a nation’s wealth – its energy reserves – private corporations would rake in massive profits for a few decades and two or three generations of Americans might prosper, but in the longer term the nation would be “burning its capital”.
Full speed ahead
After the convulsions of the Depression and World War II, the US emerged with the same leading corporations in an even more dominant position. Now the US had control, or at least major influence, not only over rich domestic fossil fuel reserves, but also the much greater reserves in the Middle East. And as the world’s greatest military and financial power, they were in a position to set the terms of trade.
For fossil fuel corporations the major problem was that oil was temporarily too cheap. It came flowing out of wells so easily and in such quantity that it was often difficult to keep the price up. It was in their interests that economies consume oil at a faster rate than ever before, and that the rate of consumption would speed up each year.
Fortunately for these interests, a new theory of economics had emerged just in time.
In this new theory, economists should not worry about measuring the exhaustion of resources. In Timothy Mitchell’s words, “Economics became instead a science of money.”
The great thing about money supply was that, unlike water or land or oil, the quantity of money could grow exponentially forever. And as long as one didn’t look too far backwards or forwards, it was easy to imagine that energy resources would prove no barrier. After all, for several decades, the price of oil had been dropping.
So although increasing quantities of energy were consumed, the cost of energy did not appear to represent a limit to economic growth. … Oil could be treated as something inexhaustible. Its cost included no calculation for the exhaustion of reserves. The growth of the economy, measured in terms of GNP, had no need to account for the depletion of energy resources.” (Carbon Democracy, pg 140)
GDP was thus installed as the supreme measure of an economy, with continuous GDP growth the unquestionable political goal.
A few voices dissented, of course. Hubbert warned in the mid-1950s that the US would hit the peak of its conventional fossil fuel production by the early 1970s, a prediction that proved correct. But large quantities of cheap oil remained in the Middle East. Additional new finds in Alaska and the North Sea helped to buy another couple of decades for the oil economy (though these fields are also now in decline).
Thanks to the persistent work of a small number of researchers who called themselves “ecological economists”, a movement grew to account for stocks of resources, in addition to tallying income flows in the GDP. By the early 1990s, the US Bureau of Economic Analysis gave its blessing to this effort.
In April 1994 the Bureau published a first set of tables called Integrated Environmental-Economic System of Accounts (IEESA).
The official effort was short-lived indeed. As described in Beyond GDP,
progress toward integrated environmental-economic accounting in the US came to a screeching halt immediately after the first IEESA tables were published. The US Congress responded swiftly and negatively. The House report that accompanied the next appropriations bill explicitly forbade the BEA from spending any additional resources to develop or extend the integrated environmental and economic accounting methodology ….” (Beyond GDP, by Heun, Carbajales-Dale, Haney and Roselius, 2016)
All the way through Fiscal Year 2002, appropriations bills made sure this outbreak of ecological economics was nipped in the bud. The bills stated,
The Committee continues the prohibition on use of funds under this appropriation, or under the Census Bureau appropriation accounts, to carry out the Integrated Environmental-Economic Accounting or ‘Green GDP’ initiative.” (quoted in Beyond GDP)
One can only guess that, when it came to contributing to Congressional campaign funds, the struggling fossil fuel interests had somehow managed to outspend the deep-pocketed biophysical economists lobby.
S-curves and other paths
With that lengthy detour complete, we are ready to rejoin Raworth and Doughnut Economics.
The final chapter is entitled “Be Agnostic About Growth: from growth addicted to growth agnostic”.
This sounds like a significant improvement over current economic orthodoxy – but I found this section weak in several ways.
First, it is unclear just what it is that we are to be agnostic about. While Raworth has made clear earlier in the book why GDP is an incomplete and misleading measure of an economy, in the final chapter GDP growth is nevertheless used as the only significant measure of economic growth. Are we to be agnostic about “GDP growth”, which might well be meaningless anyway? Or should we be agnostic about “economic growth”, which might be something quite different and quite a bit more essential – especially to the hundreds of millions of people still living without basic necessities?
Second, Raworth may be agnostic about growth, but she is not agnostic about degrowth. (She has discussed elsewhere why she can’t bring herself to use the word “degrowth”.) True, she remarks at one point that “I mean agnostic in the sense of designing an economy that promotes human prosperity whether GDP is going up, down, or holding steady.” Yet in the pictures she draws and in the ensuing discussion, there is no clear recognition either that degrowth might be desirable, or that degrowth might be forced on us by biophysical realities.
She includes two graphs for possible paths of economic growth – with growth measured here simply by GDP.
Source: Doughnut Economics, page 210 and page 214
As she notes, the first graph shows GDP increasing at steady annual percentage. While the politicians would like us to believe this is possible and desirable, the graph showing what quickly becomes a near-vertical climb is seldom presented in economics textbooks, as it is clearly unrealistic.
The second graph shows GDP growing slowly at first, then picking up speed, and then leveling off into a high but steady state with no further growth. This path for growth is commonly seen and recognized in ecology. The S-curve was also recognized by pre-20th-century economists, including Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill, as the ideal for a healthy economy.
I would concur that an S-curve which lands smoothly on a high plateau is an ideal outcome. But can we take for granted that this outcome is still possible? And do these two paths – continued exponential growth or an S-curve – really exhaust the conceptual possibilities that we should consider?
On the contrary, we can look back 80 years to the Technocracy Study Course for an illustration of varied and contrasting paths of economic growth and degrowth.
Source: The Oracle of Oil, page 58
M. King Hubbert produced this set of graphs to illustrate what can be expected with various key commodities on which a modern industrial economy depends – and by extension, what might happen with the economy as a whole.
While pure exponential growth is impossible, the S-curve may work for a dependably renewable resource, or a renewable-resource based economy. However, the next possibility – with a rise, peak, decline, and then a leveling off – is also a common scenario. For example, a society may harvest increasing amounts of wood until the regenerating power of the forests are exceeded; the harvest must then drop before any production plateau can be established.
The bell curve which starts at zero, climbs to a high peak, and drops back to zero, could characterize an economy which is purely based on a non-renewable resource such as fossils fuels. Hopefully this “decline to zero” will remain a theoretical conception, since no society to date has run 100% on a non-renewable resource. Nevertheless our fossil-fuel-based industrial society will face a severe decline unless we can build a new energy system on a global scale, in very short order.
This range of economic decline scenarios is not really represented in Doughnut Economics. That may have something to do with the design of the title metaphor.
While ecological overshoot, on the outside of the doughnut, represents things we should not do, the diagram doesn’t have a way of representing the things we can not do.
We should not continue to burn large quantities of fossil fuel because that will destabilize the climate that our children and grandchildren inherit. But once our cheaply accessible fossil fuels are used up, then we can not consume energy at the same frenetic pace that today’s wealthy populations take for granted.
The same principle applies to many essential economic resources. As long as there is significant fertility left in farmland, we can choose to farm the land with methods that produce a high annual return even though they gradually strip away the topsoil. But once the topsoil is badly depleted, then we no longer have a choice to continue production at the same level – we simply need to take the time to let the land recover.
In other words, these biophysical realities are more fundamental than any choices we can make – they set hard limits on which choices remain open to us.
The S-curve economy may be the best-case scenario, an outcome which could in principle provide global prosperity with a minimum of system disruption. But with each passing year during which our economy is based overwhelmingly on rapidly depleting non-renewable resources, the smooth S-curve becomes a less likely outcome.
If some degree of economic decline is unavoidable, then clear-sighted planning for that decline can help us make the transition a just and peaceful one.
If we really want to think like 21st century economists, don’t we need to openly face the possibility of economic decline?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bart Hawkins Kreps is a long-time bicycling advocate and free-lance writer. His views have been shaped by work on highway construction and farming in the US Midwest, nine years spent in the Canadian arctic, and twenty years of involvement in the publishing industry in Ontario. Currently living on the outermost edge of the Toronto megalopolis, he blogs most often about energy, economics and ecology, at An Outside Chance.