Citizen Action Monitor

For 90% of people in the developed world, income growth ended a decade ago — Nate Hagens (1/5)

Growing the economy is incompatible with mitigating climate change, despite what Trudeau keeps saying.

No 2216 Posted by fw, May 11, 2018

To access links to other posts by Nate Hagens about The Human Predicament, click on the Tab titled Teachings of Dr. Nate Hagens about The Human Predicament – Links to Posts

(NOTE — This is a second revision of the title, subtitle, of my original May 11 post titled Introducing Dr. Nathan ‘Nate’ Hagens, master of a systems synthesis grasp of the human predicament).

Based on a systems synthesis analysis of the human predicament, Dr. Nate Hagens delivered the keynote address at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in January, 2018.

In his concluding remarks, Dr. Hagens summarized his main points about the human predicament this way:

  1. Energy is what we have available to budget and to spend.
  2. Money is just a marker for real capital/wealth
  3. The primary drivers of growth – cheap energy and available credit – are waning. For most people, growth is already over.
  4. We don’t face a resource scarcity situation but one of declining ‘resource contribution’. In other words, there isn’t a real energy shortage but rather a ‘longage’ of expectations. [‘longage’, a new version on ‘long’ meaning something that is time-consuming, or annoying]
  5. Our evolved behaviour drivers make it difficult to act/plan ahead other than in a crisis. Biology determines what we need, culture determines how we get it.
  6. Global market-based human society is functioning like a dissipative structure – and will continue to until it cannot.
  7. We need to – as best we can – use intelligent foresight and integrate/plan for a lower consumption, more local and regional future.
  8. The good news is we only need a fraction of all this material stuff to be happy and healthy.

In response to this description of the human predicament, he asks this question: “What do we do?” And he immediately answers: “I don’t know,” adding, “And I don’t know what the future will be.”

Rather, he sees the future as the unfolding of a continuing series of bell-shaped probability distributions along a continuum axis from “life diminishing” to “life enhancing” outcomes.

Dr. Hagens then proceeds to tell the audience of science and technology students “What the future will NOT be”

  1. Growing the economy AND mitigating climate change.
  2. Growing the economy by REPLACING fossil fuels with renewables.
  3. Humans en masse choosing to leave fossil sunlight in the ground.
  4. Governments explaining limits to growth BEFORE limits to growth are well past.

Dr. Nate Hagens

About Dr. Nathan John Hagens – Hagens, 51, worked on Wall Street at Lehman Brothers and Salomon Brothers for 10 years before closing his own hedge fund in 2003 to develop a systems synthesis approach to the human predicament. At one point, he was the lead editor of the influential online news and information resource, At present, Dr. Hagens is a professor at the University of Minnesota where he teaches a systems synthesis Honors seminar called Reality 101, A Survey of Human Predicament. The readings and lectures cover literature in systems ecology, energy and natural resources, thermodynamics, history, anthropology, human behavior, neuroscience, environmental science, sociology, economics, globalization/trade, and finance/debt with an overarching goal to give students a general understanding of how our human ecosystem functions as a whole. Such a systems overview is necessary to view the opportunities and constraints relevant to our future from a realistic starting point.

Below is the first in a series of posts of my transcriptions of Dr. Hagens’ keynote address. The video of his full 58-minute address, followed by a 22-minute Q&A session, is included. My transcript begins at the 3:10-minute point and ends at the 8:00-minute mark.


WEP2018 TV: Energy, Money and Technology and the Human Superorganism  by KAUST Official, January 23, 2018

TRANSCRIPT (from 03:10 to 08:00)

03:10 – Thank you. Welcome everyone. I have 160 slides. Every time I do a talk like this, especially to young people, I realize it’s a little bit of a sledgehammer and I kind of feel bad. Hours before the talk I remove some slides, but it’s so important that people understand the whole picture, that I didn’t remove any slides and so I’m going to do the full fire hydrant as it were.

The talk is going to have a brief introduction; then I’m going to go through seven energy and economy basics; I’m going to explain why humans in the global market economy are functioning like a superorganism; I’m going to have some implications on what that means; and I’m going to conclude with some “What to Do?” suggestions.

04:13 — Briefly, imagine a lion the size of a school bus that’s purple with green iridescent dragonfly wings flying over the Red Sea and swooping down and picking up a snorkeler in a reef with its talons.

None of you have ever imagined that before but by me saying those words all of you pictured something like what I just described. And the problem is, science is a very recent thing in our evolutionary trajectory, whereas language and imagery that would work in our ancestral past are very, very ancient. So, what ends up happening is our virtual world in our minds imagines many, many more things than are possible in the physical world.

And this is the problem with some of the stories that our culture is telling each other. Now this is less prominent for scientists because they’re trained to be skeptical and look at “Can that be possible.” But you’re still human, so when we think about myths, about the future, we have to recognize that our mind is susceptible to stories that sound great but may not be feasible.

So this talk, I think there is a trade-off between being really accurate and reductionist and precise and being relevant and having a wide scope.

Most of the talks have been relevant to a micro-perspective of technology or a process or something, my talk is going to be less precise, less accurate, but in my opinion more relevant and a framework for our societal situation.

So we live in a time of paradox, a 12-year plateau and conventional oil production yet price is only $60 [a barrel]. There’s widespread recognition of human-caused climate change, massive investments into renewable energy but globally CO2 increasing at the highest rate in history. For about 90% of people in the developed world, growth in income ended a decade ago, yet stock markets are at an all-time high. Everyone is somewhat worried but no one talks about the real issues on TV or in public.

We’re also in a time of myth. Demand for oil will dry up in the next 20 years due to self-driving uber taxis. We will begin manned space colonies by 2030. The global economy will be growing by 20% a year by 2060. We will grow economies, mitigate climate change and solve poverty and inequality using solar, wind and smart-grid technology. And humans will be extinct in ten years from climate change.

There’s all these myths that we hear. In my opinion, before we address these things is a time for more urgent, more relevant questions. What should we be doing to meet the challenges of the future?

In order to arrive at the appropriate answers our first and critical task is to be asking the right questions. The London School of Economics [that] Queen Elizabeth questioned in 2008: Why did no one foresee the timing, extent, and severity of the global financial crisis? The British Academy answered a year later: A psychology of denial gripped the financial and corporate world. It was a failure of the collective imagination of many bight people to understand the risks to the system as a whole.

It’s my opinion that you have to see the system as a whole to understand what’s going on. And my class is neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, energy, resources, minerals, economy, money, climate change, mass extinction – all into one and I’m going to give you a one-hour summary of that class and the implications today.

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