“Self-admittedly, Jack has a very dark view of the future, but it’s worth thinking about.” – James Howard Kunstler. —
No 2653 Posted by fw, August 17, 2020 —
“You’ve written, or, at least, composed a website called ‘Unwinding the Human Predicament’…. Will you tell the listeners what your view of the human predicament is.” —James Howard Kunstler
“I think that we’re grossly underestimating what kinds of injuries will unfold in the 21st century. I’m an engineer. My field is dynamics so I tend to look at things in the physical mode rather than in the social mode. And just from the physical aspects … we have 7.6 billion people on the face of the earth. And we can only have that many because we have fossil energy to support them…. If that energy decreases and we have a lot less energy to support the human community, then there’ll be a lot fewer people…. I suggest we’ll have over 90 or 95% reduction of population by 2100 based on loss of energy. All the other problems are in addition to that. But, just because the delivery of high-value energy – the kind we use to fly airplanes and drive cars and heat our houses and have electric lights – those energy sources are going to go away by 2100. We may get some new ones, but I don’t think so. And if we don’t get the new ones, the population will be 600 million subsistence farmers.” —Jack Alpert, Engineer in Dynamic Systems Theory
Jack Alpert is director of Stanford Knowledge Integration Lab, a Lab which he started in 1978 at Stanford University. In 1992 the Lab left Stanford and became a non profit research foundation. The research focused on how people gather and process information to understand dynamic systems. Over the years the Lab has transitioned its focus to the relationship between human cognition and civilization viability. The current work is on discovering and implementing behavior that “changes our course” and creates a sustainable civilization. Mr. Alpert predicts that the human population will be reduced by 90 percent before the year 2100.
James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including Living in the Long Emergency; Global Crisis, the Failure of the Futurists, and the Early Adapters Who Are Showing Us the Way Forward.
Below is an embedded audio recording of the opening 9:46-minutes of James Howard Kunstler’s 58-minute interview of Jack Alpert, the Engineer with a “very dark view of the future.” Below the audio sound bar is my transcript of this segment of the interview.
At the bottom of the post are the embedded three videos that Jack mentioned during the conversation. You may find it difficult to fully comprehend Jack’s novel line of reasoning, which is very different from the purely qualitative, cherry-picked “good news” kind of accounts that many environmentalists publish. If you “sort of get” Jack’s charts, then hats off to you.
To listen to Kunstler’s interview on his website click on the following linked title. Of course, his website version will not have my transcript or the three embedded videos.
00:00 – Music
00:16 – James Kunstler (JK) – Hello, and welcome to the KunstlerCast. Thanks for listening in. My guest this week is Jack Alpert of the Stanford Knowledge Integration Lab, which he started at Stanford University in 1978, and is now an independent non-profit research foundation that he runs.
This is a pretty wild ride of a discussion between me and Jack. We’re going to be going into some rather dark places. He self-admittedly has a very dark view of the future, but it’s worth thinking about, and he has put a lot of energy in it, and he is a sincere guy. He’s not coming from the Woo-Woo planet. And we’re going to talk to him about the human predicament.
01:04 – Commercial Break
02:40 – I’m speaking to Jack Alpert in Kansas City. We first met at Charlie Hall’s Biophysical Economics Conference a few years ago. You’re still part of that outfit, right?
Jack Alpert (JA) – I am. I’m participating since we met.
JK – Did you start the Stanford Knowledge Integration Lab?
JA – I did. Stanford Knowledge Integration Lab Was created at Stanford University in 1978 where I was studying learning theory, how people use information to make predictions and whether or not they let that information influence their behavior.
JK – Did you teach there subsequently?
JA – No. I did basic research. The Lab did research.
JK –So you were a pure researcher?
JA – Exactly. I taught lots of lectures but I had no formal professorial responsibilities there.
JK –I see. Are you a physicist, a psychologist, or what?
JA – I have two degrees in engineering in dynamic systems theory. And I did a Masters at the University of Wisconsin by teaching classes to non-engineering students so they could do back-of-the-envelope modelling of their daily experiences, and understand what the implications of various behaviors were. And when I left Madison I went to Stanford to do a PhD in engineering. The Chairmen of the Engineering Department there at that time, Jim Adams, said “You know, I think you’d be happier over at the Education School ranked number 1. They’ll tolerate your special skills and interests.” I went over there and they were ecstatic. They gave me two whole years of class work for my Masters degree and dissertation, and they let me finish my PhD there. So it was an interdisciplinary PhD. At that time it wasn’t called cognitive science, but that’s what I did.
[THE HUMAN PREDICAMENT]
4:40 — JK – That was a good deal. You’ve written, or, at least, composed a website called Unwinding the Human Predicament. And we’ve had a few prior conversations about this. Will you tell the listeners what your view of the human predicament is.
JA – I think that we’re grossly underestimating what kinds of injuries will unfold in the 21st century. I’m an engineer. My field is dynamics so I tend to look at things in the physical mode rather than in the social mode. And just from the physical aspects — which is how we met at the Biophysical Economics Conference — we have 7.6 billion people on the face of the earth. And we can only have that many because we have fossil energy to support them.
If that energy decreases and we have a lot less energy to support the human community, then there’ll be a lot fewer people. I put up several videos – one called Losing Our Energy Slaves (10-min), and the other one is called Underestimating Overpopulation (9-min) — where I suggest we’ll have over 90 or 95% reduction of population by 2100 based on loss of energy. All the other problems are in addition to that. But, just because the delivery of high-value energy – the kind we use to fly airplanes and drive cars and heat our houses and have electric lights – those energy sources are going to go away by 2100.
We may get some new ones, but I don’t think so. And if we don’t get the new ones, the population will be 600 million subsistence farmers.
6:24 – JK – You suggest later on in your overview that the optimal population of – or surviving population — of a post-oil age world — would be 50 million in a handful of carefully designed city-states running hydro power.
JA – Right. And the 50 million came from taking the in-place hydro – not developed hydro – in-placed hydro, and dividing it by the energy used by the normal person in the United States, which is 96,000 kilowatt hours per year, per person. Now that doesn’t come through your electric meter, but it comes into your life in the form of roads and bridges and hospitals and all the things that make your life possible. If you added up your share of the energy that went into creating all of them it would take 96,000 kilowatt hours per year just for you as a person.
7:23 — JK – I notice that you’re projecting or suggesting that hydro power would be the way to power this reduced civilization. I’ve been writing about renewable energy lately and the whole renewable scene for a new book that I’m writing [ Living in the Long Emergency: Global Crisis, the Failure of the Futurists, and the Early Adapters Who Are Showing Us the Way Forward ], and from what I can tell, with the solar and the wind, and things like that, in the so-called renewables basket, none of it really pencils out economically. What’s your take?
7:51 – JA – Well, I’m very careful to do my calculations in joules and mass. Economics is sort of a fuzzy field. You can print money and you can actually keep society going on printed money. But in reality, at the fundamental level you have to have the joules from the wind and from the photovoltaic cells to actually support a civilization. I don’t think it’s possible.
I did a little movie called Sustainable Civilization Analysis (10-min) All these movies I’m referring to can be found by just Googling their titles; you don’t even have to go to my website, which is http://www.skil.org/ . What I’m trying to say is that when you do things in joules …
Let’s assume you took an island like Japan. And you put a ring of windmills around it and you connected it all together and you converted everything that goes on in Japan into electrics only – they import no coal, they import no oil. But they get all their joules from these windmills. And you can contract the population, and set up farms to feed people. And now you got the whole system working. And there’s no imports or exports. Whatever steel they started with or whatever copper they started with or whatever precious metals or the stuff we make transistors out of — rare earths – and all that was in place, in a working system, in Japan, and then we isolated Japan – no imports, no exports, no enemies.
And the question was – “Could these windmills, reproduce themselves and maintain the whole civilization?” And I think when we pencil out the numbers that it won’t.
9:46 — End Of The Opening Segment Of The Interview
ALPERT’S THREE VIDEOS
Losing Our Energy Slaves (10-min)
Underestimating Overpopulation (9-min)
Sustainable Civilization Analysis (10-min)
FAIR USE NOTICE – For details click here