No 2225 Posted by fw, May 30, 2018
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“At a three and a half percent growth rate, which was roughly last year’s global [GDP] growth rate, we will double the energy and material throughput — that took our species ten thousand years to amass – in the next twenty-five years. So the average college student today, if business as usual continues, will see two of those doublings in her lifetime, which means that when they’re in their seventies [energy and material throughput] will be 4 x times today’s. Is that possible? Is that desirable? What are some of the variables that will come to bear on that happening? What are some of the impacts? The story I’m going to tell is almost the perfect storm for the human brain to ignore and reject, because it is complex, it is threatening, a little bit scary, it’s in the future, not today, it is abstract. And there’s no immediate thing that we can go do to solve it. And so for all those reasons, everything’s going kind of wild in our society. It’s almost impossible to get people to agree on this and to get people to act.” —Nate Hagens
Following up on my recent five-part transcript of Dr. Nate Hagens’ keynote address to students at Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in January, 2018, what follows is the first in a series of transcriptions of Hagens’ talk at Kansas Wesleyan University on April 23, 2018. At this time, I have no idea how many parts there will be in this series, but I’m guessing dozens of very short pieces.
I am so impressed with Dr. Hagens’ “big picture”, system synthesis grasp of the complexity of our human predicament that I am going to make every effort to share his wisdom with others, which is a challenge because he admits that his presentations demand a considerable cognitive investment for most people. But, in terms of gaining a responsibly informed understanding of the human predicament, the intellectual challenge is worth the effort.
There is a brief bio-sketch about Dr. Hagens at the bottom of this post.
Below is the embedded video of Hagens’ 60-minute address, followed by an 18-minute Q&A session. My transcript of Pt. 1 begins a few seconds into the opening introductions, and ends at about the 07:22-minute mark. The transcript has been edited for enhanced readability.
Alternatively, a video of Hagens’ talk, along with a “loosely related” essay on the talk, are available by clicking on the following linked title. This version, published by Resilience, also includes excellent readers’ comments, including responses by Hagens.
TRANSCRIPT (from 00:06 to 07:22)
00:06 – My name’s Matt Thompson. It’s my pleasure to serve as the President of Kansas Wesleyan. We’re glad you’re joining us for this conversation. And we’re thrilled with the turnout. So, thank you all so much. I know that we have students and faculty, staff,, community members who are with us tonight. Kansas Wesleyan is proud to be the host for this event because we believe part of our role in the community, both the Salina community and the broader world community is to be a place for people to come together for conversations about matters that matter. And now to introduce our guest speaker is Dr. Aubrey Streit Krug.
00:53 – Thank you President Thompson. I am the director of a program called Ecosphere Studies at The Land Institute. We’re happy to participate in this type of resilience work. Dr. Nate Hagens has a Master’s degree in Finance from the University of Chicago, and a PhD in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont. He went from ten years at Wall Street to teaching a course at the University of Minnesota called Reality 101.
Dr. Hagens, an “impressive synthesizer of a framework for our future, which we think is totally crucial”
He is an impressive synthesizer of a framework for our future, which we think is totally crucial. I hope it thrills my students to know that we have such great capacity to learn and be changed by single moments in our life. In that spirit of true education, I hope you will join me in welcoming Dr. Nate Hagens.
02:50 – I’m going to do something a little bit different tonight. I’ve never done this particular talk before. I’m going to mention energy quite often.
This painting is a famous painting by Paul Gauguin. In the upper left, in French*, is — Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? It’s kind of a story of his life, metaphorically. [*D’où Venons Nous / Que Sommes Nous / Où Allons Nous. P. Gaugin 1897].
I’m going to talk about the story of our species, and our culture so far.
From ice age to massive globalized civilization
03:48 – About ten thousand years ago, the glaciers receded and the end of the last ice age happened. [In] no fewer than five places on earth, humans began agriculture as a way of life. Fast forward ten thousand years to today and we have this massive globalized civilization – seven and a half billion humans, commerce, money, trade – everything.
If business continues as usual, we will double the energy and material throughput twice in the next 50 years
At a three-and-a-half percent growth rate, which was roughly last year’s global [GDP] growth rate, we will double the energy and material throughput — that took our species ten thousand years to amass – in the next twenty-five years. So the average college student today, if business as usual continues, will see two of those doublings in her lifetime, which means that when they’re in their seventies [energy and material throughput] will be 4 x times today’s.
04:51 – Is that possible? Is that desirable? What are some of the variables that will come to bear on that happening? What are some of the impacts?
Hagens is going to tell us a story — A story that is complex, threatening, scary, abstract, and in the future
The story I’m going to tell is almost the perfect storm for the human brain to ignore and reject, because it is complex, it is threatening, a little bit scary, it’s in the future, not today, it is abstract.
Everything’s going wild, people don’t agree on what to do, and are not highly motivated to act
And there’s no immediate thing that we can go do to solve it. And so for all those reasons, everything’s going kind of wild in our society. It’s almost impossible to get people to agree on this and to get people to act.
Hagen starts with his story with his three main conclusions —
05:46 — With that in mind, I’m going to start with my main conclusions:
Things are not black and white. Most things can be placed somewhere along a series of continuums.
06:45 – So those are my conclusions. I’m no longer going to talk about those. What I’m going to do is talk about the fact that the things in our world are not black and white. Most things are gray. Most things are on a spectrum. Most things are on a continuum. And I’m going to suggest 40 of these continuums that will have bearing on our collective future.
I’m going to break these continuums into five categories: The Economy; Human Behavior; The Environment; Our Culture; and The Individual.
07:22 — Let’s start with Economy.
[Resilience.org Supplement] — The Human Predicament – Around 11,000 years ago, as the last ice age ended, our ancestors – in no fewer than 5 locations around the world – took advantage of the new conditions and tried an agricultural way of life. Fast forward through two momentous phase shifts in human history (agricultural and industrial revolutions), and here we are: approaching 8 billion, seeking freedom, experiences, and material wealth all derived from physical surplus. As many are aware, the procuring of this ‘surplus’ is also impacting the larger sphere outside our homes, (we call it “Earth”) in increasingly deleterious ways. Yet, at an annual global growth rate of 3%, which most governments and institutions expect, we would close to double the size of energy and materials it took us 11,000 years to amass, in the next 25 years.
Under current trends, a college student today would see over 2 such doublings in her lifetime. (yes, 2X 4X in size by the time they’re 70). Is this possible? Is this desirable? What are the variables that will influence this trajectory? What would be the impacts if it happens? And if it doesn’t? There currently is no natural entity in our society charged with such questions. Or answers to the questions. But perhaps there should be. A systems synthesis which integrates aspects of energy, the environment, the economy and human behavior is a prerequisite to understanding what is unlikely, what is possible, what’s at stake, and ultimately what to strive for and work towards.
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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