Citizen Action Monitor

Climate change poses huge risks for humanity and our planet; ironically, we are part of the problem

There are no direct ways of solving climate change given the rise of a gluttonous human superorganism  expecting simple goals aligned with economic growth. —

No 2775 by fw, September 6, 2021 —

Here is my synopsis of Nate Hagens’ Myth #10: The Billionaires and Politicians are in Charge

Information collection and sharing worked well in our past, so why is cooperative sharing no longer effective? There are many reasons. Most importantly, the last 50 years of global economic growth have created a gluttonous human superorganism hungry for more of everything. Citizens have come to believe that billionaires and politicians are in charge. The reality is that the superorganism dynamic driving growth is currently drowning out the wishes and plans of politicians and elites. We are now swept up in a perfect storm of challenges with no easy answers. Consequently, political discourse does not intersect with the real policies we are going to need. Seeking public support, politicians share with us popular promises, myths, that are disconnected from our biophysical reality. For those who hesitate to accept a disconnect between politics and reality, try to imagine these scenarios – leaders accepting end of economic growth; deep cuts to energy and material use; denying limits of our biophysical reality; daring to tell citizens the truth. “The interventions that society will truly need cannot be voiced because the superorganism dynamic of simple goals aligned with growth stand between leaders and the public”

My transcript of this repost, which includes my subheadings and text highlighting, focuses on Nate’s concise 6min:41sec summary of the evidence that effectively contests Myth #10: “The Billionaires and Politicians are in Charge.” Myth #10 is one of 33 myths Nate discussed 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 depending on one’s interests.

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 #10, embedded in the repost below, starts at the 1:32:44 time stamp. (Although segment #10 ends at 1:38:55, 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 my transcript, click on the following linked title, which is also pre-set to begin at 1:32:44.

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Myth #10: The Billionaires and Politicians are in Charge by Nate Hagens, You Tube, September 5, 2021 (6min:11sec)

TRANSCRIPT: Myth #10 (Starts at 1:32:44 Ends at 1:38:55) 6min 11sec

Myth #10 – billionaires and politicians are in charge.

Continuing on the truth theme, there is a granddaddy myth in our culture that billionaires and politicians are in charge and if we get them all the information the best decisions will ensue.

Information collection and sharing may have worked well in our past, so…

This impulse did of course work in our past. Sharing information with high-status people today is another carryover reflex from ancestral times when our band of 100 humans encountered a change or a problem, collection and sharing information with the tribal council was the most efficient way for informed decisions to be made.

…why is information sharing no longer effective?

But today this impulse misfires for several reasons, including one very big one.

  • Firstly, the current political situation in the USA and much of the world is very polarized. Just like “The Truth” on Facebook is filtered by in-group lenses by individuals, so too do politicians and their staffs heavily filter facts that align with the stances of their politics.
  • Second, politicians are now perpetually playing whack-a-mole. They are so unbelievably strapped for time that only issues of immediate urgency get their attention.
  • And, also, importantly, the system has become so complex that only simple solutions are palatable to politicians, because complex ones could never get pushed through. So truth itself is a functional ceiling as it moves into our political discourse.

Most importantly, the last 50 years of global economic growth have created a gluttonous human superorganism expecting more of everything

But there’s a much larger reason – The global human economy is functioning as a single hungry superorganism. Money, growth and productivity that comes from technology and, increasingly, debt, allow nations to access more energy to do more things demanded by our populations – Like health care, support for the unemployed, infrastructure plans, pensions, military budgets. It’s a long list.

No world leader today dare starve this voracious superorganism, for fear of unleashing massive poverty and social unrest

No world leader is likely to choose austerity, to starve the superorganism. It would first trigger an avalanche of prior debts. In a world-sized game of musical chairs, followed by massive poverty and social unrest. So, we keep kicking the can even though the road is almost full of cans.

Citizens have come to believe that billionaires and politicians are in charge while we normal folk are on the bottom

Another way of looking at it is we tend to think that billionaires and politicians are in charge. The markets and institutions below them, and us normal folk on the bottom.

The reality is that the superorganism dynamic driving growth is currently drowning out the wishes and plans of politicians and elites

The reality is different – other than us normal folk on the bottom. Our system through the momentum of the last 50 years has created a downward causation phenomenon where the markets, optimizing profits on the backs of energy surplus, drives the economy and decisions. The actions at higher system levels constrain the behaviors at lower system levels. Said differently, the superorganism dynamic [driving] growth is currently drowning out the wishes and plans of politicians and elites. It’s why people at Davos [Switzerland] and [Washington] DC are so concerned, feel powerless because the system – aka supporting financial markets that are optimized for growth, as growth is waning — this has taken on a life of its own.

Metaphorically, the global economic system is a runaway train with an energy-hungry amoeba the conductor. At least for now.

We are now swept up in a perfect storm of challenges with no easy answers

We are now on a perfect storm of challenges which are bipartisan, systemic, abstract, complex, not imminent until they are, and have no easy answers within current institutional accepted policy frameworks.

Consequently, political discourse does not interact with the real policies we are going to need

The minds of the people most capable of addressing them [the storm of challenges] are retreating from this storm, not envisioning and building life rafts. In the same way that our individual minds have increasingly little overlap with the physical world, our political discourse has very little overlap with the real policies our nation is going to need because we have continually kicked the can on our longer-term problems. Incremental tiny steps are the only things now that are politically acceptable.

Simply put, the political world is even less ready for the systemic conversation than the general public.

Seeking public support, politicians share popular promises that are disconnected from our biophysical reality

Under this framing, what can be stated politically are themes like: “Net Zero by 2050”; “We don’t need oil anymore due to peak demand”; “Hydrogen and renewables will replace fossil fuels”; “Sustainable growth”; and others

These stories maintain a socially acceptable conduit between politics and business – Sharing popular societal goals but lacking in biophysical reality.

Hard to believe the disconnect between politics and reality? Try to imagine any of the following scenarios –

I realize there may be some tough pills to swallow in this presentation and that some may not agree with all these myths and realities. But just for a moment imagine that everything I’m saying here is true.

  • Can you further imagine a G7 or a G20 meeting where heads of state admit that growth is over
  • and the only way to solve climate change is using considerable less energy and resources, shifting to less material economies going forward, especially by rich nations,
  • and that we are papering over our biophysical situation with unsustainable debt, and that oil peaked in 2018?
  • These things cannot be stated, for if they were, it would trigger a phase shift towards scarcity behavior,
  • For similar reasons, I suspect the energy, money, growth story will never be spoken in congressional hearings, or on Fox, or on CNN until it is well in the rear view mirror and obvious to everyone.

“The interventions that society will truly need cannot be voiced because the superorganism dynamic of simple goals aligned with growth stand between leaders and the public”

As individual human beings, politicians, billionaires and civic leaders can understand the details of the human predicament, and over a few beers or a whisky, muse on what might be possible as interventions. But as spokespeople, the interventions that society will truly need cannot be voiced because the superorganism dynamic of simple goals aligned with growth stand between leaders and the public – at least for now.

1:38:55  — End of Myth #10

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

The myths themselves are listed in reverse numerical order from #33 down to #1. Clicking on the accompanying hyperlinked time markers takes you directly to the beginning of each myth. The myths can be watched in any order.

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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