Citizen Action Monitor

Myth #11: Nate Hagens challenges the accepted belief that “Climate Change is the Core Problem”

From a systems perspective, a more complex story emerges.” —

No 2755 by fw, July 3, 2021 —

First, if a hypothetical, benevolent alien scientist were to look down on Earth’s situation, it would likely agree that climate change resulting from the carbon pulse writ large is the single largest long-term risk to our species and life on Earth as we know it…. The alien might rightly then partition Earth’s unfolding environmental tragedy into two categories: First, and most obvious in the media, is the impact on the biosphere from the metabolism of human systems. CO2 in the atmosphere and oceans, and the future global heating potential and resulting impacts. But equally important are the impacts on Earth’s creatures and ecosystems from what humans do with all this energy. But the second main objection to climate change being our main focus comes from a systems perspective. Our entire system of economic exchange is fully based on mining and energy-dense carbon and other non-renewable minerals. Considering that societies are now compelled to grow, and this growth requires energy, and the energy requires carbon, expecting policies that advocate keeping fossil carbon in the ground to succeed will be about as effective as arguing with a forest fire. Physically, CO2 may be our greatest risk in intermediate and long-term, but behaviorally, information wars, real wars, financial chaos, mental health problems, and poverty – these will be the challenges our culture will continue to face and strive to overcome.” Nate Hagens, from his Myth #11

My transcript of this repost focuses on Nate’s concise 5:41-minute summary of the evidence that effectively contests Myth #11: “Climate Change is the Core Problem.” Myth #11 is one of 33 myths Nate covered in his May 21st Earth Day talk titled, Earth and Humanity: Myth and Reality. The beauty of his 2hr, 52min long, information-rich Earth Day talk is that it is more of an indexed reference tool for recurrent consultation than a lecture meant to be assimilated in one sitting.

At the bottom of this post is a complete time-stamped list of the titles of all of Hagens’ 33 myths, plus his opening Introduction and closing Interventions (and Wild Ideas). The myths can be watched in any order — but, as Hagens mentions, the order decided on seems logical.

Briefly, Nate Hagens is a 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.

The video segment of Myth #11, embedded in the repost below, starts at the 1:27:03 time stamp. (Although segment #11 ends at 1:32:44, the video will continue to play until it is stopped manually.)  For those who would prefer to watch Nate’s address on You Tube, without the transcript, click on the following linked title, which is also pre-set to begin at 1:27:03.

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MYTH #11: Climate Change is the Core Problem, by Nate Hagens, Energy and Our Future / You Tube, May 16, 2021

TRANSCRIPT: Myth #11 (Starts at 1:27:03, Ends at 1:32:44)

There are many people currently – and many of my close friends and colleagues – who state “Climate change should be our main focus.

From a systems perspective, a more complex story emerges.

First, if a hypothetical, benevolent alien scientist were to look down on Earth’s situation, it would likely agree that climate change resulting from the carbon pulse writ large is the single largest long-term risk to our species and life on Earth as we know it. (Note: Nate does not arrive at his Second point until much further along, at the sentence beginning “But the second main objection to climate change…”)

But such a wise alien might offer two important caveats: Firstly, climate is but one of many dire environmental impacts of current overshoot. Our society and media focus on the new highs in the financial stock market, while our real stock market is crashing.

Most of you know this by now, but it bears repeating — The carbon pulse has created a profound reshaping of the composition of living creatures on Earth. I’ve long known that humans numbered in the billions, but didn’t learn until a few years ago that we and our livestock outweigh wild mammals 50 to 1.

Populations of vertebrate animals are down over 50% since I was born.

This relationship holds between domestic and wild birds as well. Around 70% of the birds on Earth are now chickens and turkeys, with only 30% being wild species.

Yes, this is partially due to more people eating more chicken, but additionally there have been significant declines in global bird populations over the past 50 years.

Grassland species and insectivores have been particularly hard hit. Which stands to reason because insect biomass is estimated to be falling by two and a half percent a year – eight times faster than the rate of decline for mammals, birds or reptiles.

Earth’s insects have no value in our economic or cultural system but are like trillions of tiny robots performing tasks for our ecosystems for which there is no replacement.

One possible contributing factor to insect loss is the global explosion of phthalates, which are petroleum-based chemicals in plastic products that break down and become airborne. Phthalates have been found in almost all ant populations studied in remote areas of the Amazon as well as in the Marianas Trench, suggesting that somehow atmospheric particles are being transported over long distances by wind.

It is still unknown if this is the reason that sperm counts in Western countries have dropped over 50% in the last 40 years. Even after this drop, the median sperm count is over 47 million per millilitre, and we’re not seeing drops in babies born as a result. But shouldn’t we be wondering what else might be happening? How many other species that we don’t have the funding to research are also being impacted by endocrine disrupters?

And it’s not just endocrine disruption from microscopic chemical pollutants, but bigger plastics as well. Over 5 trillion pieces of plastic are estimated to float in the world’s oceans today, which at the current pace there will be more plastic than fish by weight by 2050.

The oceans often take second billing in environmental discussions, but they comprise 96% of the living habitat on Earth. In addition to overfishing and plastics, there’s already been a 25% increase in acidity and a 2% loss of oxygen in the oceans, as oceans are basically functioning as the main buffer for human-emitted CO2.

The alien might rightly then partition Earth’s unfolding environmental tragedy into two categories: First, and most obvious in the media, is the impact on the biosphere from the metabolism of human systems, CO2 in the atmosphere and oceans, and the future global heating potential and resulting impacts. But equally important are the impacts on Earth’s creatures and ecosystems from what humans do with all this energy.

But the second main objection to climate change being our main focus comes from a systems perspective. Our entire system of economic exchange is fully based on mining and energy-dense carbon and other non-renewable minerals. Considering that societies are now compelled to grow, and this growth requires energy, and the energy requires carbon, expecting policies that advocate keeping fossil carbon in the ground to succeed will be about as effective as arguing with a forest fire.

Physically, CO2 may be our greatest risk in intermediate and long-term, but behaviorally, information wars, real wars, financial chaos, mental health problems, and poverty – these will be the challenges our culture will continue to face and strive to overcome.

The alien observer might rightfully conclude that Earth’s alpha species [humans] is caught smack between the carbon pulse and the carbon trap. Decisions that are best for the environment are going to be bad for human populations. Conversely, decisions that grow our economies are going to be bad for the environment.

Climate change poses huge risks for humanity on our planet, but it’s merely one of the many environmental impacts downstream, from a global economy. And, perhaps more importantly, there are no direct ways of solving climate [change] while keeping the economic system the same. In coming decades we’ll have multiple of the risks that will have higher political and emotional priority, and so are unlikely to ever directly solve for [the] climate.

1:32:44 — End of Myth #11

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LIST OF THE 33 MYTHS (plus opening introduction, Interventions (and Wild Ideas and Closing thoughts)

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. To go directly to the beginning of any numbered myth or to the opening Introduction and closing Interventions and Wild Ideas, just click on the hyperlinked time stamp in front of the term “Myth” .

Time stamps: //   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 won’t 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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