Citizen Action Monitor

The prolific, inimitable Nate Hagens strikes again: This time with a new book on the human predicament

“This will be the century which tests the human potential for mediocrity against the human potential for greatness.”

No 2759 by fw, July 25, 2021 — …

“Earth’s currently most successful large creature is now in a predicament; a predicament brought about by a compelling combination of human traits and its (relatively) recent discovery of vast stores of fossil flammable fuel. … This “Carbon Pulse” is a brief period of human history in which much of the carbon sequestered as these substances over hundreds of millions of years is expended in just a few centuries. The resulting impacts on wealth, economies, and ecologies are earth-shattering. Humans are reaching the end of the carbon pulse. Now we face a time of change that requires a quality of “systems thinking” and future planning never before required of our species. … In the following pages, we will give short overviews of scientific themes central to our thesis that humans are in a predicament and why, and how we can change. It is hoped that our work will give you a greater grasp of the complex challenges facing humanity this century, as well as inspiration on how to live meaningful, effective and enjoyable lives.” Nathan J. Hagens, DJ White

The above passage is excerpted from the Introduction to a new, 345-page book, “Reality Blind: Vol. 1: Integrating the Systems Science Underpinning Our Collective Futures”, co-authored by Nate Hagens and DJ White.  (You can purchase a copy here: https://read.realityblind.world/view/975731937/i/. To download a free PDF copy, go to the black border at the bottom of your open window, below the book, and click on the download icon to the right of the printer icon.)

Coming soon: Vol. 2, covering the Environment, Modern Myths, the Superorganism, and Synthesis.

In case you missed it, Nate’s May 21 videorecorded Earth Day talk, Earth and Humanity: Myth and Reality, is on the same topic as his new book, which makes it an excellent companion piece to his video. And like his 2hr, 52min long, information-rich Earth Day talk, I suggest that Hagens’ followers in particular will find his 345-page book, 205 footnotes, to be an essential reference tool for recurrent consultation. And, for newcomers to Hagens’ work, my June 5 repost may be a good place to start: We live in a world of islands of expertise separated by oceans of misinformation and confusion  : “Collective coordination of our upcoming challenges will not be possible without first having collective sense-making”: Nate Hagens

Below is my repost of three fragments of the opening pages of his new book — the INTRODUCTION (2 pages); the TaaL (stands for Through an alien Lens) (2 pages); and the Table of Contents (6 pages).

Nate Hagens is the Co-Founder and Director of The Institute for the Study of Energy & Our Future (ISEOF) where he works with the world’s leading ecologists, energy experts, and systems thinkers to assemble a cohesive description and road-map of where we’re headed and what to do about it. Formerly in the finance industry, since 2003 Nate has shifted his focus to understanding the interrelationships between energy, environment, and finance and the implication this synthesis has for human futures. Nate has appeared in various films and TV shows and lectured around the world on issues of energy and sustainability. He teaches an honors curriculum at the University of Minnesota. Nate holds a Masters Degree in Finance with Honors from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont.

DJ (Don) White directs the organization Earth Trust, which he founded in 1976 to intervene in ecological crisis situations, and is a director of Greenpeace Foundation and other NGO’s. Originally an oil industry geophysicist, he changed course in the early 70’s to protect the environment and threatened species, with a particular focus on whales and dolphins. Since that time he has created a number of successful organizations, movements, and global campaigns.

To read Hagens’ INTRODUCTION, TaaL, and review his Table of Contents as presented in the book itself. which can be read online, click on the following linked title.

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Reality Blind: Vol. 1: Integrating the Systems Science Underpinning Our Collective Futures,  by NJ Hagens and DJ White, 2021

INTRODUCTION

In the pages that follow you will find a story about Earth’s currently most successful large creature – the human being. But Earth’s currently most successful large creature is now in a predicament; a predicament brought about by a compelling combination of human traits and its (relatively) recent discovery of vast stores of fossil flammable fuel.

Humans’ recent discovery of flammable rock and liquid in the form of oil, coal, and natural gas has temporarily turbocharged humanity’s energy use and biomass. This “Carbon Pulse” is a brief period of human history in which much of the carbon sequestered as these substances over hundreds of millions of years is expended in just a few centuries. The resulting impacts on wealth, economies, and ecologies are earth-shattering.

Humans are reaching the end of the carbon pulse. Now we face a time of change that requires a quality of “systems thinking” and future planning never before required of our species.

You read this from a tiny spot in our enormous galaxy where energy, matter and deep time have converged to create something wholly greater than energy, matter, and time; as life—once simply created—has invested billions of years in continually re-inventing itself, attaining qualities we are only beginning to understand and appreciate. And wonder of wonders, we are related to all of it and all of them, brothers, sisters and cousins; there is no known life in the universe outside of this close family. We bring to this creation a self-regarding consciousness—learning, slowly, to understand ourselves and our family, while the more primitive, automatic and powerful parts of our same minds unintentionally collaborate in its destruction. We are starting to recognize that we are individually and collectively held back by unexamined assumptions and illogical “feelings” about how things seem to be, but the reality is we have huge individual and cultural “blind spots.” Ergo, we are ‘reality blind’.

Yet this same knowledge of “who we are” gives us at least some power over it. While the path to a profoundly wonderful human future is difficult, it is not yet foreclosed. As individuals, we all will ultimately die within a century, but we each can now choose to positively affect the coming million years, trillions of human lifetimes, and the evolutionary future of thousands, even millions of species. We have powers and abilities that our ancestors could not dream of, and the freedom to use them. This will be the century which tests the human potential for mediocrity against the human potential for greatness.

There are plenty of science books out there describing the current plight of humanity – [But] what makes this one different is:

    1. a) Breadth: This is a wide-ranging interdisciplinary synthesis of the human predicament. We cover everything from deep time to cognitive biases to the fossil carbon monkey trap and integrate dozens of subjects that have bearing on the issues humans will face this century. Many core insights are not about specific topics but derive from the integration of important topics.
    2. b) A longer-term view: Most analysts advocate policies to adopt in the next few years or perhaps a decade, with no real longer-term context. We look deep into the coming decades (and beyond)—attempting to wend a path towards the larger prize—a long-view aspiration for human existence (which optimally is long term maximization of human achievement, experience and happiness, minimization of suffering, and co-existence with other complex life in a healthy environment).
    3. c) A neutral starting point: We have friends and colleagues from all walks of life: conservatives and liberals, rich and poor, American and Chinese, young and old. The situation in our social discourse today has become more about ‘the messenger’ than ‘the message’. The story in the pages that follow applies to all of us: the problems we face are not really anyone’s fault, yet we are all complicit in and now responsible for rectifying them. We hope to build bridges across typical demographic labels and spur conversations on what a sapient species might aspire to beyond our current cultural directives.

In the following pages, we will give short overviews of scientific themes central to our thesis that humans are in a predicament and why, and how we can change. It is hoped that our work will give you a greater grasp of the complex challenges facing humanity this century, as well as inspiration on how to live meaningful, effective and enjoyable lives.

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“TaaL” (TaaL stands for “Through an alien Lens”)

Here is an introduction from TaaL, our alien observer, who has volunteered to give his uncensored opinion:

Greetings, humans. I’ve been asked to contribute my perspectives to this project and am happy to oblige. Indeed, I’m obliged to oblige, because such requests must be honored under the treaty which gives my species galactic intellectual property rights to jokes about humans, which are a currently popular interstellar trade medium. So, from your point of view I’m a space alien, and from my point of view you are space aliens, except of course I know that you physically exist, and you think I’m a journalistic device. The potential downside, from my point of view, is that if you actually incorporate the stuff in this presentation into your worldview, you’ll eventually become less funny. Long-lived species aren’t inherently humorous—how many really funny trilobite jokes do you know? It’s the tragedy and comedy of dysfunctional species which produce the improbable jokes and stories worthy of broadcast to the stars. The thorax-slapping hilarity which can emerge from the chaos and complexity of existence. And in that regard your current situation is a thick vein of ore.

My stating this is not meant as criticism. My own species was hilarious 400,000 years ago. Since then, not so much. We’re mostly just content now, which I can strongly recommend. We laugh a lot but have had to look outside ourselves for the truly preposterous. And in that, we find ourselves in your debt.

Your species calls itself Homo sapiens – “wise man” – but that is a self-bestowed designer license plate at this point and is aspirational at best. An honest taxonomy places you as one of three chimp species, genus Pan. Your great distinguishing characteristic, which has opened many doors, is your symbiosis with fire; and a powerful symbiosis it has been.

Thus, any unbiased third-party species with a fetish for Linnaean taxonomy would name you Pan ignis, the fire-starting chimp. Whether you ultimately become “sapiens” is at this point unknowable.

You’re probably under the impression that your species faces myriad problems, and after experiencing this presentation you may up that number considerably. But you really have only one problem from which all the others flow: dueling universes. You each inhabit a private virtual universe of magic, feelings, urges, color, love, significance and all else. It is linked to a physical universe which operates under entirely different rules. Yet you treat these distinct universes as a single unified reality, inappropriately imputing magic to the physical world and inerrant rationality to the virtual. In doing so you are drawn to making systematic physical errors while becoming less happy.

My species was lucky enough to have the equivalent of Earth’s termites precede us on our planet by nearly a billion years, which is why I exist to make these comments; and in this universe luck is the only resource more basic to life than energy.

This termite statement may seem to be a wild non-sequitur to a human mind attuned to relatively immediate proximal causality, but I assure you it is quite salient to your situation. For in our case, we had 100,000 years to make the switch from “gene agenda” to “self-aware mind,” and eventually did so after an extended humorous period. However, your world did not evolve lignin-eating bacteria until 290 million years ago, by which time tens of millions of years of unoxidized carbon and hydrocarbons had already been sequestered underground. Thus, by random chance over geological time, a ginormous monkey trap was set long before Earth’s monkeys themselves were a gleam in probability’s eye.

Your recent discovery of these flammable rocks and liquids has temporarily turbocharged your energy use and biomass, but it also drastically shrank the time available for you to make the Big Cognitive Transition, from hundreds of millennia to hundreds of years. The fact this isn’t immediately apparent to your kind is emblematic of the predicament of any thinking species which falls afoul of what is known as the “carbon curse.” Few survive it, which is why no new funny stories are generally expected from Venus.

The big secret of being a successful sapient species is that there IS no big secret. You just need to sort out physical reality from virtual reality, dealing with the luck that random chance has dealt you, before the genetic urges which got you this far manage to kill you. Which, you’d have to admit, is pretty funny.

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Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION …………………………………………………………… 1-2

SECTION 1 – HOW TO THINK ABOUT REALITY ………….. 6

What If What We Know Just Ain’t So?? …………………………………….. 7

The Parts and the Whole of the Elephant …………………………………. 9

An Uncommon, But Important, Timeline ………………………………. 12

The Rules of Reality …………………………………………………………….. 14

Emergence ………………………………………………………………………….. 16

Contingent Probability …………………………………………………………. 18

On the Issue of Boundaries …………………………………………………… 20

So, How Do We Engage with Reality? ……………………………………. 22

SECTION 2 – DEEP TIME …………………………………………….. 24

We Are Stardust …………………………………………………………………… 25

Deep Time ………………………………………………………………………….. 27

Our Family Tree ………………………………………………………………….. 29

Mass and Minor Extinctions …………………………………………………. 30

Our Earth Clock ………………………………………………………………….. 33

SECTION 3 – HUMAN BEHAVIOR……………………………….. 36

The Human Problem, and the Human Brain ………………………….. 37

Evolution by (natural) Selection …………………………………………….. 39

The Pinnacle of Creation (Not) ……………………………………………… 41

Human Evolution ………………………………………………………………… 43

The Agenda of the Gene ……………………………………………………….. 45

Fitness Maximizer? ……………………………………………………………… 47

Hello Mr. and Mrs. Adaptation Executor ……………………………….. 49

If it feels good, do it, right?! …………………………………………………… 51

The Elephant and the Rider …………………………………………………. 53

Sexual Selection on a Full Planet… ………………………………………… 55

Social Status: Keeping up with the Joneses …………………………….. 57

You (almost) Win!! It’s the Unexpected Reward, Stupid! …………. 59

Supernormal Stimuli ……………………………………………………………. 62

Addiction/Habituation ………………………………………………………… 64

The Hedonic Ratchet…………………………………………………………… 65

Evolved to be Wrong: Bias and Delusion as Adaptive Traits …….. 68

Modular Minds – a Mixed Blessing ………………………………………… 71

The “Interpreter” Module – Introduction ……………………………….. 73

Retroactive Confabulation ……………………………………………………. 75

Belief in Belief …………………………………………………………………….. 77

Cognitive Biases: a Potpourri of Biases ………………………………….. 80

Loss Aversion ……………………………………………………………………… 82

Cognitive Dissonance ………………………………………………………….. 84

Optimism Bias ……………………………………………………………………. 86

Confirmation Bias ……………………………………………………………….. 88

Consensus Trance ………………………………………………………………… 91

Authority Bias …………………………………………………………………….. 93

Cognitive Load ……………………………………………………………………. 95

Time Blindness …………………………………………………………………… 96

Shifting Baselines ………………………………………………………………… 99

Moral Biases ………………………………………………………………………. 101

Bias X + Bias Y + Global context = Emergent Biases …………….. 103

Ultrasociality ……………………………………………………………………… 106

Ingroup vs. Outgroup …………………………………………………………. 108

Our Dual Natures: Cooperation vs. Competition ……………………. 111

Multi-Level Selection ……………………………………………………………114

Equality and Fairness …………………………………………………………..116

On Empathy ……………………………………………………………………….118

The Games People Play – the Tragedy of the Commons and the Prisoner’s Dilemma ……121

Cultural Evolution ……………………………………………………………… 124

Enter: The Amoeba ……………………………………………………………. 126

The Moat Surrounding the Castle of Sustainable Futures ……….. 129

SECTION 4 – ENERGY AND ECONOMY …………………….. 133

Energy Part 1 – Ecology and Energy ………………………………… 134

Ecology and Our Life Support Systems ………………………………… 134

Rabbits and Bears and Humans, Oh My… …………………………… 136

Carrying Capacity (and Overshoot)………………………………………. 138

The Law of the Minimum …………………………………………………….141

Bottlenecks: (Population, Genetic, and Generic) ……………………. 143

The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics …………………………………………. 147

Energy in Ecosystems: Trophic Pyramids …………………………….. 149

Income – Expenses = Life ………………………………………………….. 152

Energy Part 2 – Energy and Humans ………………………………. 154

Swimming (obliviously) in a sea of energy …………………………….. 154

So, What IS Energy Anyway? ………………………………………………. 158

Homo Sapiens and the Family Joules …………………………………….161

Humans and Fire – A Revolutionary Symbiosis …………………….. 163

Brother, Can You Spare Some Surplus? ………………………………… 165

Endo vs Exo ……………………………………………………………………… 167

Energy Part 3 –The 5 Pools of Carbon ……………………………… 169

The Bountiful Presents from the Past ……………………………………. 169

Soil ……………………………………………………………………………………. 171

Trees …………………………………………………………………………………. 174

From Sea Creatures to Gasoline (Oil) ……………………………………. 176

Coal ………………………………………………………………………………….. 178

Natural Gas ……………………………………………………………………….. 181

Energy – Part 4 – Our Fossil Armies …………………………………. 185

Our Fossil Slaves… …………………………………………………………….. 185

When Ancient Sunlight Meets Modern Machines …………………… 188

The Strength of Superheroes ………………………………………………… 190

The “Trade” – Replacing Human Labor with Fossil Energy ……. 192

The Coupling: Energy and GDP ………………………………………….. 195

The Metabolism of Humanity ……………………………………………… 198

Gross World Burning …………………………………………………………. 200

Energy and Stuff! ………………………………………………………………. 202

Energy Part 5 – Energy and Money …………………………………. 204

What is Money? …………………………………………………………………. 204

What are “Jobs,” Exactly? …………………………………………………… 206

How is Money Created? ……………………………………………………… 208

What is Debt? …………………………………………………………………….. 211

“A Fuel” and “it’s Money!” are Soon Parted… ………………………. 213

Helicopters and the Future ………………………………………………….. 216

Energy Part 6 – Energy and Technology …………………………… 219

The Impact of Higher Energy Prices on Mechanization …………. 219

Technology OR Energy vs. Technology AND Energy? ………….. 222

Efficiency and Affordability? The Rebound Effect …………………. 224

Energy, Technology and Complexity ……………………………………. 227

The Energy Cost of Getting Energy ……………………………………… 229

Energetic Remoteness – “To be Ore, or Not to be” ……………… 232

Water ………………………………………………………………………………… 235

Energy Part 7 – Energy, Growth and Population ……………….. 238

A Malthusian Perspective ……………………………………………………. 238

Modern Human Population ………………………………………………… 241

The “Pie” and the “Slice” – GDP/per capita ………………………… 244

The Slice of Pie per Human – and the Whole Pie …………………… 246

The Modern “Exosomatic” Pyramid ……………………………………. 249

Energy Privilege ………………………………………………………………… 251

Inequality ………………………………………………………………………….. 253

Poverty: Wide Boundary Style ……………………………………………… 256

Energy Part 8 – The Carbon Pulse ……………………………………. 259

The Carbon Pulse ………………………………………………………………. 259

Oil: You Gotta Find It Before You Can Burn It ……………………… 262

Depletion ………………………………………………………………………….. 264

The Red Queen Phenomenon ……………………………………………… 267

The Fracking Truth ……………………………………………………………. 270

A Crude Substitute ……………………………………………………………… 272

Price vs Cost (vs Value) ………………………………………………………. 275

What if Oil cost $400 per Barrel? ………………………………………….. 277

Draining America First ……………………………………………………….. 280

Energy Part 9 – Energy Properties and Renewables …………… 284

Renewables A.K.A. Rebuildables …………………………………………. 284

A Joule is a Joule. Or is it?…………………………………………………… 286

Potential vs. Kinetic Energy ………………………………………………… 288

Energy Properties ……………………………………………………………… 290

Energy Tech: What Can’t Work, What Won’t Work, and What Might ….. 294

The Energy Underpinning our Modern World ………………………. 296

Transportation and Trucking ……………………………………………… 299

Supply Chains, Chains, Chains, Chains, Chains ……………………. 302

“Renewable” Energy: Solar Photovoltaics and Stochasticity …… 305

“Renewable” Energy: Nuclear Fission Power ………………………… 310

Renewables: Fusion? …………………………………………………………… 314

Renewable Energy Point #1: The Invisible Triangle ……………… 317

Renewables Point #2: FFEMs (Fossil Fuel Extension Mechanisms) ……. 319

Renewables Point #3: A Story That Never Gets Fully Told – Not This Civilization ….. 321

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