Transcript of a wide-ranging, 32-minute interview with this dedicated prof who teaches his students to understand reality as it really is.
No 2395 Posted by fw, November 16, 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
Presented below is my transcript of a wide-ranging interview with Dr. Nathan J. Hagens who teaches Reality 101: A Survey of the Human Predicament, to students at the University of Minnesota. The transcript appears below my embedded audio of the interview, which took place on Radio Ecoshock, February 11, 2016. Host Alex Smith interviewed Hagens.
A summary overview of the interview, immediately below, is comprised of 16 topics and their associated subheadings, which reflect the questions posed by interviewer Alex Smith. The content overview is intended to assist readers/listeners who may prefer to first review the content and then read/listen selectively.
Three Course Pillars— The “three core pillars” of Hagens’ course – Sixth great extinction; Energy; the Human Problem. Instructional Approach — For Hagens, engaging both the head and the heart of his students is an important part of his teaching approach. And having students record their emotional reactions to the teachings provides an outlet to express themselves. Peak Oil — It’s instructive to compare February 2016 oil prices and costs with today’s going rates. When oil companies lose money, their investment in infrastructure and new drilling falls. Why Hagens prefers the term “peak benefits” to “peak oil” – peak benefits topped out over a decade ago. Course Content — Reality 101 covers a lot of ‘stuff’ integrated into one cohesive picture – and the kids “grasped it all”. The big question facing students is how to construct a lifestyle given life’s growing complexity. “I do want more people to think in systems.” Influence of Peter Ward — Peter Ward is one of Hagens’ heroes because of his expertise in the role of CO2 in prior extinctions. How Hagens helps students to experience deep time both backwards and forwards. Hardwired to Ancestors — Helping students to understand their “hardwire” connections to “an unbroken series of ancestors.” “We’re carrying around a stone age mind” via “genetic leashes”, which drive aspects of our current behavior. We’ve evolved from a pre-historic era of scarcity and privation to a modern era of plenty. Wall Street billionaires are addicted to the “feelings” of making millions by the same neurotransmitters as those that hooked our ancestors after a big kill. Youth “neurally hijacked” — Similarly, young people are increasingly “neurally hijacked” by addictive new technologies. Hidden Agriculture Crisis — Modern agriculture methods have turned us into “walking fossil fuels”. Current lifestyle at Risk — We’re so focused on the present that we don’t see that this lifestyle will be gone “in the next generation or two not matter what we do”. “Now we’re living on an ecologically full planet, so the rules might be a little bit different” from what they used to be. We’re Irrational Creatures — “I try to teach them about cognitive biases, and the fact that we are definitely not rational creatures.” As bad as things may get, “extinction is extremely unlikely.” No Coming Die-Off –“I would bet that we’re going to have more people alive as opposed to less in the next 20 or 30 years.” Inadequate Planning — Our current planning is inadequate for dealing with climate change and financial depletion. Aging Generation Can’t Cope — Older people appear to have “checked out because the problems we face “seem too daunting.” Ocean Acidification Daunting — “In the next thousand years, if the ocean acidifies greatly, that has pretty ominous implications. Forget “Oil In Soil” — “I don’t think we’re ever going to vote to keep carbon in the ground. I think our fossil slaves are going to be leaving us before we leave them.” Optimism/Pessimism Flip/Flop — “I flip back and forth between naïve optimism and despair on how this all plays out.” Fossil Fuels Forever — “I don’t think we’re going to stop the ‘heat engine’, as it were, of burning fossil fuels.”
Two personal observations about the interview. First, I was surprised by Alex Smith’s remark at the end of the interview which seems to reflect negatively on the quality of Hagens’ course: “Nate Hagens takes his students at the University of Minnesota through a wide but shallow collection of tools in his course called ‘Reality 101, A Survey of the Human Predicament.’” Second, for an academic, Nate Hagens has a distracting speaking habit of repeating words: in this case, these words riddled his speech: “kind of” – 22 times; “I think” – 29 times; and “thing” – about 32 times.
Reposted below is my link to Alex Smith’s thoughts on his interview with Nate Hagens, including a full audio of the event.
Immediately following Smith’s link is the link to the Soundcloud version of the audio of the full interview, which I have embedded in my post. And below the embedded audio, is my full transcript of the interview, with chronological markers to facilitate searching and matching the transcript with the audio. As well, I have added to the transcript subheadings, text highlights, and some additional hyperlinks.
To watch/pause the Soundcloud audio, click on the Play/Pause button.
00:00 — Alex Smith (AS) – This week on Radio Ecoshock, we’ll see how hard it is, and how possible it is, to get out of the matrix*. Resilience expert, Dr. Nate Hagens, talks about his college course, Reality 101. [*matrix – an environment in which something develops]
As an introduction to the show, host Alex Smith leads with this excerpt from the interview
00:33 – Nate Hagens (NH) – So we are kind of walking fossil fuels. And I think there’s no plan for what to do after our fossil fuels kind of deplete and go away. We’re not going to run out of oil and gas and coal, but the cost of extracting it is going to get so high – and it’s currently subsidized by financial shenanigans – that we’re not going to be able to afford a lot of what is projected as a physical resource in the ground. Sure, there’s a lot of hydrocarbon molecules there, but can we afford them? The other thing, Alex, it’s not as if we have a choice to live this way for 500 or 1,000 more years, and that’s what we’re sacrificing. This stuff’s going away in the next generation or two no matter what we do.
01:20 – 02:07 — PROGRAM ANNOUNCEMENT BREAK
Smith’s introduction to Dr. Hagens
02:08 — AS – I don’t know about you, but I’m often stuck on Bob Dylan’s words: “something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is”. Wouldn’t it be great if we could take a course to understand reality as it really is? The course exists. Dr. Nathan J. Hagens teaches Reality 101: A Survey of the Human Predicament, to students at the University of Minnesota. Nate Hagens is a familiar name to anyone who tracks energy and resilience. Nate was a successful Wall Street trader. He left all that in 2003 to probe deeper. Nate is on the Board of Directors of the Post Carbon Institute and a Director of the Bottleneck Foundation. And he teaches. He’s working on a book that he doesn’t want to talk about yet. Hagens lives on a farm in Wisconsin with a collection of animals. Nate, welcome to Radio Ecoshock.
03:00 – NH – Thank you. Glad to be here.
03:02 – AS – Now we have guests that see everything in terms of energy, and others focus just on the environment. I’ve also had eco-psychologists. You’re one of the few who are trying to wrap these all up together. Why is that?
The “three core pillars” of Hagens’ course – Sixth great extinction; Energy; the Human Problem
03:15 – NH — I think, unless you know the whole picture, or a large part of the whole picture, you end up coming to erroneous strategies and conclusions. And so some of the things you mentioned are actually the three core pillars that I taught my students and that I think are important to know —
One is that we are causing the sixth great extinction; it’s not just climate change and ocean acidification. I mean those impacts are even on the horizon, it’s squeezing out of nature;
The second is that energy underpins everything in our civilization, and our hopes and expectations are based on fossil slaves, which are no longer going to be available in the number and strength that they have over the last century. And that means an end to the growth trajectory;
And the third thing is, when we talk about is the human problem of climate change and energy depletion and pollution, and poverty, and all these things — we really don’t have those problems – we really have a human problem. So we have to look at the fact that we carry with us baggage from our evolutionary past, and what the human animal is really about. So I teach my students — probably half the semester is on human behaviour.
04:33 – AS – We’ll get to those big-picture demands that you make of your students, but I’m struck by a course requirement to spend at least an hour a week outside, away from phones, computers, connectivity – Why is nature a part of an academic study?
For Hagens, engaging both the head and the heart of his students is an important part of his teaching approach
04:46 – NH – These are mostly freshmen and some sophomores in my class, and they’re honor students. And they read a whole lot. Just in my class they read about 10 hours a week of readings. It seems to me that kids nowadays are brought up with kind of low attention spans, and gadgets. When I was that age or younger, every day after school I spent 2 or 3 hours in the foothills in Southern Oregon with my dog looking at salamanders and trees and blackberries and deer and such – and I think kids nowadays – a lot of them haven’t had that experience. So, when we’re talking about the bottlenecks of the 21st century and the human clash with everything that’s coming, I think we have to engage both the head and the heart. So I assign them one hour of being in nature with no technology and no talking – just kind of sitting and thinking about the things we learn in class; sitting in a wild setting, and I think that’s important.
05:54 – AS – And you offer them another tool that helps them deal with the uncomfortable aspects of what we’re about to talk about. And I thought, well, maybe that will help our listeners too. What is that?
And having students record their emotional reactions to the teachings provides an outlet to express themselves
06:03 – NH – The first day of class I handed out a nice little journal, a diary, to all the students, and I told them not to share that with me. It was for their own kind of emotional reactions to the things that we learned in class. They should have another notebook for the class notes and studying for quizzes and things, but this was just for their own thoughts when they learn about how important fossil fuels have been to our population increase and our consumptions levels when they learn about what’s happening to the ocean, and, you know, 40% of terrestrial vertebrates are gone since they were born, type of things. Those are very depressing and emotive facts, and I wanted to give them somewhat of an outlet to express themselves and maybe come back later in their lives and look at what they were thinking when they were 19.
06:56 —AS – Nate Hagens, you are well known as an energy commentator. What does the current glut of oil and these low prices tell us about peak oil theory and energy limits.
It’s instructive to compare February 2016 oil prices and costs with today’s going rates
07:08 – NH – You used an important term there, Alex, you said “energy prices”. I think most people are unaware that there’s a difference between ‘price’ and ‘cost’. And the price – today oil was down 5% in the public market; it closed under $30 a barrel. That’s what consumers pay. But that’s not the cost of oil. The cost of oil has gone up over 15% a year, annualized for the last 15 years or so, the cost to energy companies in extracting that. Now, we’re having a little bit of a bout of deflation globally because of China hitting the brakes on some things. And that means that the cost of oil is maybe dropping a little bit. But if you look at what price the oil companies need to break even, globally, it’s probably over $50, all in. And on the really expensive marginal barrel it’s upwards $80 or $90.
When oil companies lose money, their investment in infrastructure and new drilling falls
So when we talk about $30 is what consumers are paying, yet the oil companies are all losing money at that level, what that means is there’s going to be a lot less investment in infrastructure and new drilling and things like that to replace the depleting older fields. So, I think that oil is probably peaking very soon.
Why Hagens prefers the term “peak benefits” to “peak oil” – peak benefits topped out over a decade ago
In response to your question about peak oil, though, I don’t like that term because it just focuses on when there’s going to be a peak and a decline. It doesn’t tell the larger story that really expensive oil – say oil was $400 a barrel — the oil companies are going to go out there and find more oil at $400 a barrel. But the benefits to society are going to be substantially less the higher oil prices go. So, I prefer to call it “peak benefits” as opposed to “peak oil” and I would argue that peak benefits is about a decade ago. In other words, the benefits that society gets from super-cheap oil have already peaked and are declining. And you see it all over with lower wages and half of Americans have less than three months of savings. Wealth inequality, you see it in Europe with the refugee crisis. And all those things are tethered to higher costing of fossil fuels.
09:32 – AS – You know the course that you’re offering has some really challenging texts and videos on systems theory and complexity. It strikes me, only a few people are really going to get this. Is there some sort of social machinery or way to make this knowledge useful, to make it work? I mean do you believe in trickle-down consciousness?* [*The election of Trump has raised questions around the idea of “trickle-down consciousness,” the principle that communities working on raising their own consciousness necessarily affects the wider society].
09:52 – NH – Trickle-down consciousness? What is that?
AS – Well, if you – let’s say your students get it, just a few of your students really get it – get a picture of how this world is working — will they be able to make any difference, or are there other great big pieces of machinery that just keep us going in the same direction anyway?
Reality 101 covers a lot of ‘stuff’ integrated into one cohesive picture – and the kids “grasped it all”
10:12 — NH – That’s numerous questions, Alex. I will tell you this first off that you saw my syllabus. It is a lot of stuff. It’s integrating anthropology, evolutionary psychology, energy, economics, debt, environment, all into one cohesive picture. There wasn’t a section that my kids didn’t understand. They grasped it all. What was still an open question, is a 19-year-old, or is anyone emotionally capable of synthesizing all this and coming up with a life plan?
The big question facing students is how to construct a lifestyle given life’s growing complexity
I think the bigger question isn’t Can you understand the complexity? — it’s How do you construct a lifestyle around knowing what’s happening, and being at college in order to get a job, to be a consumer, and all that? But I personally think it’s kind of depressing to synthesize all this. But someone’s got to know it, because if no one engages with the larger challenge of what are humans going to do this century, what do we aspire to, then we’re going to kind of be the lemmings that just go off the cliff in various ways.
“I do want more people to think in systems”
11:24 – NH – So, I do think it’s not entirely threatening. Some of it is exciting. But I do want more people to think in systems, and I wish that it could happen in sixth grade and eighth grade with some of this ecology and things. My kids were just totally shocked at how vital energy is to our lives – the fact that one barrel of oil has 11 years of human labour in it and we pay now $30 for it. It’s just crazy that they’re 19 years old an they never had any idea about that. So those sort of things I think we would be better to instil much earlier.
12:06 – AS — And you’ve got a course section on geologic time and paleoclimatology. Dr. Peter Ward has been a several-time guest on Radio Ecoshock, is featured twice in your syllabus. Why Peter Ward?
12:18 – NH – He’s been on your show?
AS – Oh yes, twice. Maybe three times.
Peter Ward is one of Hagens’ heroes because of his expertise in the role of CO2 in prior extinctions
NH – He’s one of my heroes. I just had an email exchange with him a couple of months ago. I’ve read most of his books. He’s a systems thinker. He’s what I like to label a ‘proto sapiens’, someone that can look beyond all the distractions and focus on kind of the core issues. And I just, generally, like his demeanor and what he studied.
The reason that I assign his stuff to my students is he’s one of the few people that has studied and looked at the commonality of prior mass- and mini-extinctions, and CO2 was a common link in almost all of them, if not all of them. There’s now evidence that the meteor that hit 65 million years ago, there was already a CO2 pulse that started a couple of hundred thousand years before that. Just to kind of look at the context of deep time – when we talk about billions of years or hundreds of millions of years, it’s like talking about billions or trillions of dollars. Our brains just can’t grasp that.
How Hagens helps students to experience deep time both backwards and forwards
So one of tools I like to use with young people is I bring either a stromatolite, which is a two-billion-year-old cyanobacteria, or I like to have a hundred-million-year-old piece of amber with an insect in it that was frozen in amber. When you’re looking at that insect in amber, when that insect was alive, dinosaurs were still a conditional probability in the future. They didn’t even exist yet. And when you’re looking at that and holding it in your hand it allows you to experience in your mind, deep time actually happened, and I’m holding part of it now. And when you think about deep time backwards you can also possibly think about deep time forward, and all the lives of different creatures, including humans that have not yet been on the planet and it’s kind of a profound thing to think about.
14:24 – AS – Well we are a short blip on that time scale. But we have evolved even in our own time. I watched a Reality 101 course video about evolutionary psychology; it’s a You Tube interview with John Tooby and Leda Cosmides on stone age minds. Do you find yourself agreeing that the human mind doesn’t arrive as a blank slate, but may have structures designed to cope with the problems of a hunter-gatherer society, right inside us?
Helping students to understand their “hardwire” connections to “an unbroken series of ancestors”
14:52 – NH – Well, of course I agree with that because I assigned my students that. I don’t know about Canada [Alex Smith is Canadian living in BC] but I’ve given lectures in Europe and it’s obvious to students there, but in America, especially with the high standard deviation of high school education, it was a real eye-opener to students to think that we – all of us alive today – are descended from the best of the best – an unbroken series of ancestors who had access to resources, were successful in mating, successful in raising offspring, and all those adaptations that led to their success. We’re kind of hardwired in our ancestors, and we have those things. So we know, with certainty, that we spent a very, very, very long time in small bands of between 50 and 150 tribal members on the plains of Africa, and we are descended from them. You can imagine, what are the things that led to their success? And those are the things today that shout loudest in our brain. Things like jealousy and in-group preference, and fear — all the things that led to their success are still with us today. And we’re just reacting in a different world. When we have a craving at night for ice cream or nachos with cheese sauce, it’s our brain reacting to these super-normal stimuli of today that weren’t available in our ancestral past, but the neurotransmitters of the brain signals are telling us “This is good for you, you need more of this”, because our ancestors had adaptive advantages.
“We’re carrying around a stone age mind” via “genetic leashes”, which drive aspects of our current behavior
So, once you start looking at human behavior with the lens of “We are carrying around a stone age mind” and it’s not all facts and what culture dictates that drives us – that we have these genetic leashes; it really kind of is a powerful lens into looking at what’s possible and what’s unlikely in our behaviors.
17:07 – 17:18 — PROGRAM ANNOUNCEMENT BREAK
17:20 — AS – I’m Alex Smith talking with Nate Hagens about Reality 101. Nate, you’ve also written an article, “The Psychological Roots of Resource Overconsumption.” I couldn’t find that anywhere online; what is it about?
We’ve evolved from a pre-historic era of scarcity and privation to a modern era of plenty
17:33 – NH – It’s kind of like what I was just saying. It’s that we are [in the] forming years as a species – we’re in an environment of scarcity and privation. And now we’re in an era of plenty because of fossil largesse giving us all kinds of gadgets and ability to fly to the moon or fly to Australia and ship things to us – and so, if we look at our evolved drivers there is no natural negative feedback, living in a tribal setting in Africa, to more stuff. We just kind of had what we could get and carry around with us.
Now there’s no instinctive limit to our craving for more and more stuff.
Wall Street billionaires are addicted to the “feelings” of making millions by the same neurotransmitters as those that hooked our ancestors after a big kill
I used to manage money for billionaires on Wall Street, and I could see that it was just the feelings they were after every day, trying to get from $300 million to $400 million in their bank account. It didn’t really count for anything. They weren’t happier. They didn’t need that extra money. But they were getting the same neurotransmitters that our ancestors got in the Pleistocene when they killed the animal and brought it back to the tribe.
Similarly, young people are increasingly “neurally hijacked” by addictive new technologies
18:47 — And I think there’s also the addiction aspect to it. We get higher and higher hedonic ratchets, higher and higher levels of baseline stimulation from modern things. I’m worried about young people today that spend so much time on Facebook and Vines [on You Tube] and Twitter and Instagram. And every time we do that, we get a little bit more neurally hijacked, because this is like cocaine to our brain relative to the experiences our brain was formed for. And what happens is, you know, planting a tomato or doing a nature hike on Vancouver Island doesn’t shout as loudly to people as this new technology. And I fear that as today’s youth gets older they’re not going to have the attention span to deal with some of the very physical problems coming down the road.
19:49 – AS – Well, speaking of physical problems, I want to skip over to another topic here — Do you think there’s a hidden crisis in agriculture?
The hidden crisis in agriculture
19:57 – NH – The hidden crisis in agriculture is that a third of our arable land has gone away in the last few decades via pollution and washing into the ocean. And we don’t seem too concerned about that because we just put new fertilizer on it the next year, which comes from fossil fuels. A 150 years ago our bodies were entirely formed from sunlight and soil. And now 50% of the protein and 80% of the nitrogen in our bodies comes pretty much directly from natural gas via the Haber-Bosch fertilizer process.
Modern agriculture methods have turned us into “walking fossil fuels”
So, we are kind of walking fossil fuels. And I think there’s no plan for what to do after our fossil fuels kind of deplete and go away. We’re not going to run out of oil and gas and coal, but the cost of extracting it is going to get so high – and it’s currently subsidized by financial shenanigans – that we’re not going to be able to afford a lot of what is projected as a physical resource in the ground. Sure, there’s a lot of hydrocarbon molecules there, but can we afford them?
We’re so focused on the present that we don’t see that this lifestyle will be gone “in the next generation or two not matter what we do”
And then, the other thing, Alex – and I don’t know if this is one of your later questions – but it’s not as if we have a choice to live this way for 500 or 1,000 more years, and that’s what we’re sacrificing. This stuff’s going away in the next generation or two no matter what we do. We’re just so focused on the present – quarterly earnings is – that’s what everyone’s talking about. But we don’t even have a five-year plan let alone a twenty-year plan, or a fifty-year plan, or a 1000-year plan.
And that again is because of our evolutionary psychology. Our ancestors that focused on the distant future would have been out-competed by people or organisms that consumed any food they found. To defer reward is something that’s kind of against our nature.
22:04 – AS – I disagree in one sense though because we did adapt to living in northern climates by figuring out how to store some food. So there is that idea of storing, as the Egyptians did, they stored grain for several years.
“Now we’re living on an ecologically full planet, so the rules might be a little bit different” from what they used to be
22:17 – NH – Oh yeah, absolutely. That just modulates the expected standard deviation of feast or famine. So, yeah, we can focus on the next season out. But were the Egyptians focused on 50 years out – I mean we never really had to before. There was always some new horizon or a new continent to go to, but now we’re living on an ecologically full planet, so the rules might be a little bit different.
22:45 – AS – Well if things don’t go well – and there are plenty who are pessimists now, in your course Reality 101 — there is a segment on mass extinction. Where do you stand on the idea of human extinction, whether it’s in this century, as suggested by Dr. Guy MacPherson, or in the next coming centuries?
“I try to teach them about cognitive biases, and the fact that we are definitely not rational creatures”
23:04 – NH – Well, you brought up Guy MacPherson. I actually showed my students — on the Climate Change part of the class — one of his videos. And I showed it back to back with a video from a former Green Peace guy named Patrick Moore who denies that climate change is a concern, and actually thinks that burning fossil fuels has staved us off from the death of plant life. Both of these guys are articulate and intelligent and trained and believable – but they come across with wildly different conclusions. And I think that exercise was intended to show them [students] that there’s a vast disparity of opinions on climate change. But it really hammered home some of what I try to teach them about cognitive biases, and the fact that we are definitely not rational creatures.
As bad as things may get, “extinction is extremely unlikely”
As far as extinction goes, I view the world as a probability distribution. I think some bad things are definitely possible – actually some bad things are pretty likely. I think extinction is extremely unlikely – I will definitely not say zero. We’re awfully adaptive creatures. The problem I have with Mr. MacPherson is to say “Oh we’re going extinct. There’s nothing we can do. There’s all these climate feedbacks.” – To have that position is functionally equivalent to being a denier of these problems, because neither camp will accomplish anything.
“I would bet that we’re going to have more people alive as opposed to less in the next 20 or 30 years”
It hasn’t happened yet, so Guy and his acolytes are being useless in my opinion. And if they really think that these things threaten the world they should be out there doing some inconvenient things trying to stop it. So, I think the nihilistic “We’re going to go extinct” is not a productive thing – even if it were true. I think we’re going to go through various bottlenecks this century, and I would bet that we’re going to have more people alive as opposed to less in the next 20 or 30 years. That’s not saying it’s a good thing, I just think that’s probably likely.
Our current planning is inadequate for dealing with climate change and financial depletion
But this all comes down to — What do we aspire to? I think that’s a question that’s just not being asked enough. We’re all concerned about climate change — so let’s build solar panels. And you know, we’re concerned about financial depletion, so our financial currency crisis – let’s buy some gold. We just don’t have a plan on what humans – now that we know Where we came from, Who we are, What we need, What we’re doing to the planet — What’s the plan? What do we really want to do with our time here?
Older people appear to have “checked out because the problems we face “seem too daunting”
And I’m hoping that young people can address that question and start thinking about it because I think that older people are cognitively checked out because it seems too daunting.
26:10 – AS – You know we’re not going to have time to really get into what the climate, ocean bottleneck is, but you said it really affected your students. Could you at least give us a snapshot of what you’re talking about there?
“In the next thousand years, if the ocean acidifies greatly, that has pretty ominous implications”
26:20 – NH – Well, we had a week on climate change and a week on ocean acidification. We showed some videos and stories about what the ocean continuing to take up the excess CO2 might imply for the future. And I don’t think we know enough about any of this stuff to know with certainty what’s going to happen. I’m in Minnesota, and we’re not near the ocean here, and I think a lot of people just think the ocean is where we get shrimp and mahi-mahi [ocean fish] from, and they don’t really think about the complexity and the creatures there. So, to think of how much the ocean has already been decimated — 90% plus of pelagic fish is gone, 98% of whale biomass gone, and — to put an emotional face on those things – my writing partner has experience with cetaceans, not only in researching them, but also having them as friends. And so hearing his personal stories about relationships with dolphins, etc., it hit the kids pretty hard, because we don’t know if the food webs will exist. I’m talking about this century. But in the next thousand years, if the ocean acidifies greatly, that has pretty ominous implications for some of those other mammals in the ocean.
27:41 – AS – Yes, I just interviewed a scientist who did a study on plankton and found that it’s possible that the source of our oxygen could be greatly depleted if the ocean warms too much. But that’s a whole other topic. I do want to get to this point here on resilience. I found another text required for the course. It’s called A Prosperous Way Down by Howard and Elizabeth Odum. Is there a prosperous way down? And why should we accept going “down” at all?
“I don’t think we’re ever going to vote to keep carbon in the ground. I think our fossil slaves are going to be leaving us before we leave them”
28:08 NH – I don’t think we’re ever going to vote to keep carbon in the ground. I think our fossil slaves are going to be leaving us before we leave them. And that’s going to mean one thing almost for sure – there’s going to be a lot more poverty and it’s going to be deeper poverty. I think that Americans – and I think Canadians are pretty similar – we consume around 230,000* calories a day, and our bodies only need 3,500 or 3,000. So, all that excess energy that we consume from coal, oil, and natural gas is around 70 times what our bodies need. [*This is an obvious error. According to 2014 article, the US has the highest calorie intake in the world with 3,770 calories].
“I flip back and forth between naïve optimism and despair on how this all plays out”
So as far as a prosperous way down, there’s a heck of a lot of buffer. We’re living at one of the richest times – with the exception of the natural world – the richest times in the history of our species. So there’s a lot of potential, navigable ways down. But the agenda of the gene, as it were – the things that shout loudly to us when we feel like we’ve been unfairly treated and other people are getting more than we are or other nations – you know, war and violence and those sort of things are likely companions on that – but I think it all comes down to what you were saying before about some trickle-down consciousness of who we are, what we want, and what makes us happy, And, I flip back and forth between naïve optimism and despair on how this all plays out. But I think to have young people engaged with reality of energy, environment and behavior, there could be some emergent properties that are actually pretty exciting. And we can’t visualize it now; it’s so natural for us to kind of hear some bad news on the Internet or on our emails, and extrapolate that forward, but I think there’s quite a few possible positive game moves that are left.
30:07 – AS – OK. So, what does the individual do about this?
“I don’t think we’re going to stop the ‘heat engine’ as it were, of burning fossil fuels”
30:11 – NH – Ah. Well, I think that you know I’m writing a book, kind of on that. I think you have to kind of take your awareness of likely futures, which we’re going to have basically less stuff, or, at most, the same amount as today. And I think we have to look at choosing our own paths during that time, where we pick our friends and we pick our pastimes and we choose what we value. And I’m going to hopefully have a longer list of that to share with you the next time we talk. But it has to do with kind of dismissing the consensus track of what other people value and what they think is the goal, and march to your own drummer a little bit. I don’t think we’re going to stop the “heat engine” as it were, of burning fossil fuels. But I think we can meet it half way, and that comes from individuals and then groups of individuals and then towns and nations, etc.
31:18 – AS – When do you think your new book will be ready?
31:20 – NH – Excellent question. It’s hard to kind of tell the whole story in a way that can be understood and grasped, but also in an inspiring and hopeful way, because I am hopeful that we’re going to make some good decisions that we can’t yet see. I would hope by the beginning of next semester, which will be September  it’ll all be ready, and I will definitely send you a copy.
31:47 – AS – Great. Well, thank you for talking with us today, and by all means let’s talk about this book when it comes out later this year.
Alex’s links to Nate Hagens’ video talks
Worldwatch Institute State of the World 2015 – Energy, Credit and the End of Growth, Nathan Hagens – You Tube talk, published April 21, 2015, 25-minutes long.
The Converging Economic and Environmental Crisis You Tube talk, July 10, 2014. 1-hour, 29-minutes long
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