Fixed, biased personal viewpoints like this, says Hagens, are subverting interpersonal communications about the future. —
No 2736 Posted by fw, June 7, 2021
Paraphrasing Dr. Hagens, here is my summary of his Myth # 1: “WE ARE DOOMED!”
Humanity is not in harmony with our biophysical reality, and adjustments are on the way. People are starting to realize that the business-as-usual road ahead is closed. “All possible futures exist as a probability distribution between “bad” and “great” futures…” Unknown to us, notions of future possibilities exist in our heads as our very own probability distributions. But it’s our feelings of uncertainty that impel us to mentally create and believe in a positive future vision. Individually, the range of our perceived future outcomes may range between “No problem.” and “We’re screwed!” Fixed, biased personal viewpoints can subvert interpersonal communications about “the future”. Viewpoints not grounded in biophysical realities sabotage efforts to meet a future rushing towards us. Beware fantasy options such as “net zero emissions” and “economic growth using low carbon energy sources.” “My purpose,” says Hagens, “is to get more people’s distributions to overlap so we can have the best and brightest and most pro-future humans speak the same language and solve some of our issues.” Human emotions spur most of us to believe in “rapture ideologies”, such as colonizing outer space. We need many more creative people to conceptualize alternative paths forward, constrained, of course, by our biophysical reality. However, given our fossil-fuel-based supercharged economies, we’re headed for a smaller more chaotic economy. Concluding on a bright note, Hagens asserts: “the future is not yet certain, but many benign and even wonderful futures are still on the table.”
Nate Hagens is a brilliant systems synthesist and well-known speaker on the big-picture issues facing human society. Before becoming a professor of an Honors seminar at the University of Minnesota, Nate was President of Sanctuary Asset Management and a Vice President at the investment firms Salomon Brothers and Lehman Brothers. He has a Masters Degree in Finance with Honors from the University of Chicago and a PhD in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont.
Below is my repost of an embedded video of Nate’s dazzling May 21st Earth Day talk, a veritable feast of key ideas from his past work, packaged as a collection of 33 myths. The beauty of his 2hr, 52min long, information-rich presentation, titled “Earth and Humanity: Myth and Reality”, is that it is more of an indexed reference tool for recurrent consultation than a lecture meant to be consumed in one sitting. Moreover, the myths can be watched in any order, but, as Hagens mentions, the order decided on, as shown in the list at the bottom of this post, makes the most sense.
My transcript in this repost focuses on Nate’s five-and-a-half-minute persuasive reflection on how our fixed, biased personal viewpoints are subverting interpersonal communications about the future. He titles this piece Myth # 1: “WE ARE DOOMED!”. It begins at the 2:14:18 mark and ends at 2:19:51. (NOTE: Hagens presents his 33 myths in reverse numerical order).
Here’s how Hagens describes his Myth # 1: “WE ARE DOOMED!” piece: “My purpose isn’t to explain what’s going to happen because I don’t know. My purpose is to get more people’s distributions to overlap so we can have the best and brightest and most pro-future humans speak the same language and solve some of our issues.”
At the bottom of this post is a complete list of Hagens’ 33 myths, plus his opening Introduction and his concluding closing “Interventions (Wild Ideas)”.
Hagens’ complete video is embedded at the opening of the repost. To watch it on You Tube click on the following linked title.
TRANSCRIPT of Myth # 1: “WE ARE DOOMED!” (Starts at 2:14:18 mark, ends at 2:19:51)
Humanity is not in harmony with our biophysical reality and adjustments are on the way
At the other end of the belief spectrum from “technology will save us” there is a growing theme that “we are doomed.” And based on all the information in this presentation, such an outcome might now even seem more plausible than it did before. But what I’m trying to point out here is that our current way of life, and our expectations, are not commensurate with our biophysical reality — And there are some adjustments on the way.
People are starting to realize that the business-as-usual road ahead is closed
This doesn’t mean we’re doomed. However, most people are starting to realize the road is closed ahead of us on our current cultural expectations. But this intertwines two related issues: 1/ the road itself and various physical pathways still open to us, and 2/ people’s psychological reactions to the metaphorical “road closed” sign.
“All possible futures exist as a probability distribution between “bad” and “great” futures…”
All possible futures exist as a probability distribution between “bad” and “great” futures, and everything in between. We can’t know what this distribution looks like, but science can inform and shift and refine the area and the boundaries and the tails of this distribution over time.
Unknowingly, notions of the future exist in our heads as our very own probability distributions
Without knowing it, each of us as individuals has our own probability distribution in our heads about various aspects of the future — the size of the economy; our own life trajectory; the severity of climate change; etc. We change these distributions on the fly when world events change or we learn new things or develop a wide understanding, etc.
The above blue line distribution is a proxy for how a dispassionate scientist might view a range of future possibilities.
Feelings of uncertainty rouse us mentally to create and believe in a positive future vision
Most people don’t like uncertainty. Being uncertain about something actually brings physical discomfort. We believe something fully if it saves us from allocating working RAM (random access memory) to think about it, and makes us more effective on our basic daily tasks: which is why most people convince themselves about some flavor of the future, become quite sure of it, and then stop thinking about it.
Individually, the range of our perceived future outcomes may be between “NO PROBLEM” and “WE’RE SCREWED!”
The range of perceived outcomes is very small because this reduces anxiety about an uncertain future. This is usually resolved by moving towards one of the twin poles of 1/ “fantasy” – there’s no problem or 2/ “doom” – there’s nothing we can do, we’re screwed. Both of these, despite being unrealistic and unlikely, obviate the need for personal change and remove discomfort.
Fixed, biased personal viewpoints can subvert interpersonal communications about “the future”
This creates several problems. First, almost everyone has a different viewpoint, and everyone’s confident, by definition, that the distribution of their own viewpoint is the correct one. Notice that very few of the distributions overlap, making it difficult to have conversations about that issue — In other words, “the future”.
Viewpoints not grounded in biophysical realities sabotage efforts to meet a future rushing towards us
Completely utopian views not grounded in biophysical realities are delaying societal efforts to meet the future, rushing towards us, halfway. But equally bad, if not worse, are the 100%-certain dystopian views that humans are going extinct in the near term no matter what happens. That’s not only wrong, it shuts people down at this our greatest hour for creative angst and aggressive, dedicated action.
Beware fantasy options such as “net zero emissions” and “economic growth using low carbon energy sources”
To the average person, watching this presentation may have shifted the probability distribution in their heads slightly to the left, leaving out a few of the fantasy options of net zero emissions or continued economic growth using low carbon sources.
My purpose isn’t to explain what’s going to happen because I don’t know.
My purpose is to get more people’s distributions to overlap so we can have the best and brightest and most pro-future humans speak the same language and solve some of our issues.
For emotional reasons, the majority are drawn to “rapture ideologies” like colonizing outer space
We are starting to realize the road is closed ahead of us. And our current cultural expectations, instead of crafting a new path to the future in creative ways, most people, for valid emotional reasons, are gravitating towards rapture ideologies like colonizing outer space, technology will save us, or Mad Max is coming. Let’s eat, drink and be merry.
Simply put, it feels better and resolves dissonance [discord] to be sure.
We need many more people conceptualizing alternative paths forward, constrained by our biophysical reality
Americans use 100 times the energy that our bodies need; Europeans 50 times. We have robust renewable technology that, in tandem with depleting fossil hydrocarbons, can still support vibrant, meaningful, advanced societies. They will just look different than we have today. We need many more people designing alternative paths forward – informed, and yes, constrained by our biophysical reality – but spurred on by the love of nature, discovery and a shared future.
Given our fossil-fuel-based supercharged economies, we’re headed for a smaller more chaotic economy
Everyone watching this presentation is alive somewhere between the blue and red star, on what can be described as the “carbon pulse”, where human economies are supercharged by mining the energy-dense carbon from Earth’s past. A young person today might reasonably live her life entirely above the green line in this graph. Yes, we’re headed for a smaller, more chaotic economy. Things will not be easy. There will be some tragedies and disasters. But there will also be love, beauty, discovery, culture change, new visions, and different ways of living with each other and the planet.
The future is not yet certain, but many benign and even wonderful futures are still on the table.
“When a system is far from equilibrium, small islands of coherence have the capacity to shift the entire system” Ilia Prigogine [was a physical chemist and Nobel laureate noted for his work on dissipative structures, complex systems, and irreversibility.]
End of Myth 1
LIST OF THE 33 MYTHS (plus opening and closing remarks)
Nate notes that the myths themselves are listed in reverse numerical order from #33 down to #1, while the time markers are in chronological order from beginning to end, which facilitates their quick and easy location on the video. The myths can be watched in any order, but the order they’re in made the most sense to Hagens.
0:04 — Introduction
2:20 — Myth #33: The Experts Have ALL the Answers
4:16 — Myth #32: Humans Are Separate From Nature
6:45 — Myth #31: Humans Are Mostly Selfish
12:17 — Myth #30: More Is Better
18:12 — Myth #29: “Someday I’ll Have enough”
21:18 — Myth #28: We Care About the Future
23:38 — Myth #27: Everyone Has Their Own Truth
26:37 — Myth #26: Truth Matters
29:31 — Myth #25: Energy Is Merely a Commodity
34:28 — Myth #24: The American Dream is Based on Hard Work and Cleverness
36:05 — Myth #23: Oil: The USA Will Be the Next Saudi Arabia
41:46 — Myth #22: We Can Always Get More Resources if We Have More Money
44:42 — Myth #21: Renewables Can Power THIS Civilization
50:55 — Myth #20: In the future we wont need oil due to Peak Demand!!
55:01 — Myth #19: We Can Achieve Net Zero!! (by 2050 or any date)
59:54 — Myth #18: As Earth runs out of resources, We’ll Colonize Outer Space!!
1:02:26 — Myth #17: Growth Is Forever
1:05:04 — Myth #16: GDP Is the Right Goal for Society
1:10:56 — Myth #15: Overpopulation Is the Main Driver
1:15:21 — Myth #14: Technology Will Solve It
1:21:16 — Myth #13: The Environment Is Part of the Economy
1:24:04 — Myth #12: The Natural World Is Ours
1:27:03 — Myth #11: Climate Change Is the Core Problem
1:32:44 — Myth #10: Billionaires and Politicians Are in Charge
1:38:56 — Myth #9: Financial Markets Give Us the Right Signals for the Future
1:43:22 — Myth #8: Stimulus Is Permanent
1:48:37 — Myth #7: We Need to Crash the System to Get a Fresh Start
1:52:43 — Myth #6: The Use of Nuclear Weapons Is Unthinkable
1:57:03 — Myth #5: Fossil Fuel Companies Are at Fault
2:03:01 — Myth #4: Capitalism Is to Blame
2:07:54 — Myth #3: Humans Are Bad
2:11:37 — Myth #2: We Face a Shortage of Energy
2:14:17 — Myth #1: We Are Doomed
2:19:56 — Interventions (and Wild Ideas)
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