Citizen Action Monitor

We’re delusional: We think our cleverness, technology, ingenuity are driving the economy — Nate Hagens (5/5)

Growing the economy by replacing fossil fuels with renewables is NOT likely to happen.

No 2220 Posted by fw, May 19, 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

Dr. Nate Hagens

“This is our situation: we have an economy based largely on fossil sunlight, and half of it’s gone. Not only that but we’ve used up a large majority of our environmental sinks in the oceans, in the atmosphere and with other species. But we’re still using this game plan where we think it’s our cleverness and our technology and our ingenuity that are powering the economy. We don’t even realize about this [fossil sunlight] bank account other than we know oil is important because we need it for gasoline. And we don’t even include the prices of these externalities in our market system. … Finally, you might consider having a conversation with yourself on these issues. Who am I, being alive at this time, with these challenges? What do I stand for? The time is not to minimize my impact but to maximize it – how can I do that?”Dr. Nate Hagens

This is the fifth and final part of this series of transcriptions of Dr. Hagens’ keynote address to science and technology students at Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, in January, 2018.

This post includes Hagens’ Conclusions and Implications, a Brief Summary of Main Points, his thoughts on What’s NOT Likely to Happen, and What To Do.

Under the category What To Do — As Individuals, item 3 caught my attention: “Try to accept you can’t shift things too much before the energy/economy reality becomes more apparent to others.” Based on Hagens analysis, absent a global apocalypse, waiting for “the energy/economy reality to become apparent to others” may takes us past a point of no return.

Below is the embedded video of Hagens’ full 58-minute address, followed by a 22-minute Q&A session. My transcript of this concluding segment begins at the 46:20-minute point and ends at about 57:50. I have included 6 of Hagens’ slides; you can view all of them by watching/pausing the video of his keynote address in another window while referring to the transcript. There will be no transcript for the Q&A session.

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

TRANSCRIPT (from 46:20 to 57:50)

[46:20 – CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS]

This is our situation: we have an economy based largely on fossil sunlight, and half of it’s gone. Not only that but we’ve used up a large majority of our environmental sinks in the oceans, in the atmosphere and with other species. But we’re still using this game plan where we think it’s our cleverness and our technology and our ingenuity that are powering the economy. We don’t even realize about this [fossil sunlight] bank account other than we know oil is important because we need it for gasoline. And we don’t even include the prices of these externalities in our market system.

47:02 – This graph represents time on the lower axis and energy cost on the left axis. And what’s happening is the extraction cost globally of our most important resources are going up. And what’s happening is consumers’ affordability and their ability to pay for things is going down. So, it’s these two trends that are going to intervene in coming decades. If we think about the implications of that, extremely intensive applications are going to get more expensive in coming decades.

47:35And the other problem is the lowest quintiles* of income in most OECD countries have been significantly declining. So this [graph] is the lowest 29% of Americans, based on income, are down; they’ve lost 12% of their income over the last decade. Only the top 5% of Americans are making more than a decade ago. 95% of Americans, and the same thing in Europe – I have no idea about other countries because I haven’t studied them – but most developed countries are facing this trend. [*quintile – a division of households by income into five quantities]

48:07 – So, again, reality for 90% of people in the USA and Europe, growth is already over. Yet all governments continue to plan for growth. This [graph] is an IMF World GDP forecast. No matter how much we miss on the estimates, they continue to project growth into the future.

48:23What’s happening seems like somebody’s fault. We’re tribal. We like to blame when something happens. It’s the Russians. It’s the Liberals. It’s the Republicans. It’s the tree huggers. It’s the rich. It’s some other demographic. The real story is that our fossil helpers are asking for pay raises, at a time when the amoeba is larger and hungrier.

48:46Viewed from the perspective of the Superorganism, we’re all complicit but no one is to blame.

48:50The good news is our physical needs require energy, most psychological needs do not. After the Superorganism becomes smaller, there will be new models about how humans receive our brain services. But we have to understand who we are first.

49:03 – This is a Vaclav Smil’s graph that shows energy supply on the bottom axis versus human development. And you can see countries that have very low energy supply or [are] very poor and don’t have a lot of development. Once they get to a basic amount then it [human development] levels off. We could see many times in our own lives and in countries’ lives that at a certain point more money or more energy doesn’t make us happier. 

49:31 – Here’s a few countries, for example: Guatemala: the average person in Guatemala makes $7,700 year. The average person in Kuwait makes $70,166 a year – they’re equally happy in both of those countries. And there’s a lot of reasons for that.

49:47 – Here’s the average income over a 50-year period in the US, increasing pretty much every year versus a chart of very happy people – not correlated. Some of you are smiling and laughing because you know this is true. You know that more stuff isn’t what gives us happiness: it’s social capital and meaning and we can talk about it in the Q&A.

50:11 – So, we think about the big picture, like thousands of years before and after. And we are living through the carbon pulse. And for those of you that are concerned about climate change, you hope we’re at the top star [on the graph “The Carbon Pulse” of energy scale over time]. And for those of you who are worried about the economy, you hope we’re still at the bottom star. My opinion is the economic inputs to the worst climate models are delusional because they have economists running them, and fossil fuels will quit before we fire them. But will that suffice and will the cure, unprepared, for be worse? I don’t know.

50:43BRIEF SUMMARY

  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 in the developed world, growth is already over.
  4. We don’t face a resource scarcity situation but one of declining ‘resource contribution’. What benefits does that more expensive resources give to our economies? Less than we are expecting. 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. The global market-based human society is functioning like a dissipative structure – and will continue to do so 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.

51:42The challenge of this century – What do we do? I don’t know. And I also don’t know what the future will be. I’m pretty confident I know what it will NOT be. But the future is a probability distribution, and each of you has a distribution in your head of what it look like. And what is possible and what will happen is going to change – perhaps daily.

52:04WHAT’S NOT LIKELY TO HAPPEN

  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 presentations like this before limits to growth are well past.

52:22 – SO, WHAT TO DO?

As a Species

Simply, we need a completely different conversation of how all this stuff fits together. What to do as a species? Ask better questions:

1/ What is our goal?

2/ What are the stakes?

3/ How can we use the remaining oil and gas towards best purposes so 200 years from now our descendants don’t look back and say “It was all wasted.”

4/ Does it matter knowing who we are, where we came from, what we’re doing, what we need and want, what is possible? That is a very important question. I like to think it does matter.

52:55 – As a Nation or Institution

1/ Educate people on ecology and natural resources at young age.

2/ Consider taxing resources instead of labor.

3/ Start pilots of residences without base loads and try out lower consumption lifestyle patterns.

4/ Direct resources to support science and unbiased journalism media.

5/ Redefine poverty and provide safety nets for the lower tranches of society.

6/ Consider an “Anti-rebound effect pool” where we don’t fall not this energy/tech rebound effect and we take  profits from each new efficiency and technology and we don’t feed back to the Amoeba but we direct them towards some more sustainable plan.

7/ We break large groups working in better futures into smaller subsets. For example, take 500 people working on an issue, divide the funding into a hundred piles and give it to those 100 groups of 5 people, because we function best in small groups, not as a Superorganism.

53:50 — As a University/College

1/ Educate and train students in subjects and skills that will be needed in a source-sink constrained future.

2/ Have science and technology directed towards providing basic human needs. The problem is there isn’t funding for this yet in most schools.

3/ Build new interdisciplinary, collaborative capacity.

4/ Suggest retiring professors consider a pro-future Capstone project* during their last 3 year at the college. [*Capstone projects can be research-oriented or design-oriented. Solutions are typically interactive, meaning the end product is something that can be implemented and used. Goals for the Capstone experience include: Define the information problem or opportunity].

5/ We need detailed expertise and continued specialization, but perhaps the academy can stop rewarding hyper-specialization associated with such reductionism.

6/ Make your school needed and relevant because much of our university system is a product of ‘surplus’ which is going away.

7/ Be bold and take risks. A highly-educated, disciplined mind is a terrible thing to waste. These are unique times.

54:53 – As Individuals

1/ The simplest changes – Use logic, reason and think for yourself and avoid the consensus trance.

2/ Awaken to the huge advantage you have in life because you understand these things.

3/ Try to accept you can’t shift things too much before the energy/economy reality becomes more apparent to others.

4/ Don’t step out of society. Live a normal life. Advance in a job you like in today’s world, but know it will likely change at some point.

5/ Be a ‘sleeper’ leader/anchor for the future. Be ready to engage when the world needs your knowledge.

6/ From an energy economy perspective, consider simplifying first and beating the rush.

7/ Don’t become overly reliant on energy intensive activities and lifestyles.

8/ Help to re-localize/re-regionalize supply chains.

9/ Learn a physical skill.

10/ Help to design technology that provides important basic human services as opposed to short-term dopamine novelty.

11/ Contribute to a massive list of societal transition projects and campaigns tackling pieces of the challenge.

12/ From a brain behavior perspective, get to know your brain, and that may be a little uncomfortable because we very rarely have conversations with ourselves.

13/ Be happy with absolute wealth instead of relative wealth.

14/ Consider a paleo-behavior diet just the same as a diet that eating nuts and meats and not carbs or fats or alcohol is healthy for our bodies, a paleo-behavior diet – the way that we used to live – might periodically make you healthier.

15/ Take electricity/technology breaks.

16/ Reset your brain and your nature.

17/ Choose your tribe wisely. Who you hang around with makes an immense difference on your life satisfaction.

18/ Relax, smile, enjoy life and be kind to yourself. That’s important.

19/ Finally, you might consider having a conversation with yourself on these issues. Who am I being alive at this time, with these challenges? What do I stand for? The time is not to minimize my impact but to maximize it – how can I do that?

56:52 — I think this is very important. We look at what we’re doing to the planet. And we’re looking at this gargantuan challenge, and it’s natural to say that humans are evil, that we’re bad. I don’t believe that’s the case. I think what we’re doing has an evil component to it, but we’re just executing the algorithms that our ancestors gave us, and we’re born during this time. So, we’re not evil at all. We’re amazing creatures capable of great things both terrible and wonderful. And we are part of the Superorganism, and you are not. You have “degrees of freedom”* outside of the story that I’ve told. [*Degrees of freedom – consider this example: a student needs to take nine courses to graduate, and there are only nine courses offered the student can take. In this example, there are eight degrees of freedom; the student is able to choose eight of the classes that are available, but the ninth class is the only class left, and the student has to enroll in it to graduate.]

58:27 – So we live in very special times. To conclude, our world is not yet fully broken. What is our species, Homo Sapiens, capable of? Brain services per non-renewable resource input is going to be a key metric this century. Knowing who we are and what is at stake is the first step. Caring is the second. And there are more. We’re each part of an energy-hungry, global amoeba and we are not.

57:50 — Thank you.

 

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, theoildrum.com. 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.

Visit Nate Hagens’ personal website at The Monkey Trap.

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