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Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010, 2:39 PM

Last night (Tuesday, January 26th, 2010) I gave a talk to a sold-out audience at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. The crowd was excellent, and I was thrilled to have the chance to deliver our message at this venue.

I say ‘our message’ because so many of you helped to shape the talk, and, most importantly, practically forbade me from doing anything but delivering a no-holds-barred message.  So that’s what I did.

Here are a couple of observations.  Five years ago I was delivering a version of this message in the basement community room in a local bank in Brattleboro, VT to very small audiences.  Yesterday, a half hour before the talk began, there were ~30 people waiting in a side room for a small chance at one standby ticket.

Five years ago, the audiences were all ‘of an age.’  Now they include many more younger people and represent a much broader cross section of society, beliefs, professions, and income levels.

My impression is that the tide is shifting, powerfully, and yesterday’s response proved to me that ideas matter, that people care, and that getting our collective act together is a rapidly-ascending priority for a growing group of people.  Whoever says that there's no interest anymore in big ideas is flat-out wrong. 

So thank you to everyone that came, and, if you couldn’t make it in, I’m sorry, and I hope that we get a chance to meet soon elsewhere.  If you can make it to the Sonora event, tomorrow night (Thursday, 6-9:30), I’d love to see you there.

Below is the speech I gave (not an exact transcript, but very close).


Thank you for that kind introduction.

I am pleased and excited to have this opportunity to speak to you.  I want to thank the Commonwealth Club and its members for making this talk possible.

I want everyone here to know that I thought long and hard about exactly how to say what I am going to say tonight.  We are going to be discussing really BIG IDEAS, and, truthfully, I struggled with how much to say.

My final decision was to trust the intellect and instincts of this crowd and be as clear, clean, and direct as I can..

So that’s what I am going to do.

Tonight I want to examine the obstacles that stand way of a full and lasting economic recovery and to illuminate the connection between economic growth and energy.

But before we delve into the details and explore the possibilities for alternative outcomes, let me share a little bit about myself and how this information has radically altered my life and the life of my family.

Six years ago, as a married, 42-year-old professional with three young children, I lived in a suburban, five-bathroom house on the coast of Connecticut, had a secure position as a corporate vice president with a very large company, and owned a twin-engine fishing boat in a slip.

I loved that boat.

Today, I live in house that is less than half the size of my prior one, I am now located in a semi-rural location, I have a strong local community, and a kayak.

A small one.

Perhaps I could summarize my journey that way; I went from twin engines to a double paddle.

Yep, that about sums it up.

Now, why did I do that?

For the past six years, I have been combining information and trends in the Economy, Energy, and the Environment into a single comprehensive story.

Instead of delving deeply into any one of these subjects, I discovered that there's immense value in looking across all three at once.

Instead of being like a blind man trying to describe one part of an elephant, I chose to be like a blind man examining the whole elephant.

Okay, this took me a few years, I'll admit.  It was a big elephant, but it was worth it.

This exploration altered my investments, my work, where I live, who I know, what I value, and the things I choose to do.

The results of this exploration were put into video form, which I made freely available to everyone on the Internet about a year and a half ago.

It is called The Crash Course and has been viewed more than a million and half times and translated into numerous languages.

One of the things I am known for is having correctly called the current economic downturn well in advance, although I do not consider this to have been one of my better analytical moments.

As we'll soon see, this was about as exceptional as “predicting” the direction of a dropped anvil.

Still, an incredible number of so-called economic experts missed it, and, even more incredibly, some still maintain that they couldn't have done any better, even in retrospect.

I foretold of a decline in the dollar back in 2003, in 2007 I called for a 30% to 50% decline in national housing prices, and in May of 2008, I predicted a 40% or greater decline in stock prices.

These calls were provocative at the time, but are now considered self-evident.

How was it that, even though I am not a trained economist or financial advisor, I was able to spot these things so far in advance?

I did this by connecting a few dots and then trusting myself.

Here's an example of how I connected the dots for the current economic crisis at a very high level.

While the entire narrative of this crisis is riddled with strange acronyms, unfathomable derivatives, and complicated regulatory lapses, my view is that these were just elements of the story.

The main plot line can be summed up in just three words:  "Too Much Debt."

The big picture view of our difficulties is nothing more complicated than the fact that from 2000 to 2008, eight short years, the total amount of debt in this country doubled.

You heard me right, it doubled.

Meanwhile, no net jobs were created and median incomes actually went backwards.

When it comes to owing a debt, your options are to either pay it back or default on it, and I don't care if you are an individual, a family, a town, a state government, or a corporation, the same basic rules apply.

As we all know, in order to pay your debts back you've got to have earnings and cash flow.  If debts are growing but earnings are not, then sooner or later, a debt crisis will result.

Which is exactly what happened, and it was utterly predictable.

I'd love to take credit for having had a keen insight here, but I really don't consider this extraordinary.

It was common sense.

A very large credit bubble developed right before our eyes, and it was completely obvious to anyone who cared to see it for what it was.

My view is that we'll be living with it for some time yet, because I do not believe that it is possible to "solve" a crisis rooted in 'too much debt' by going deeper into debt.

And that is exactly what we are doing.

I think it's like trying to cure an economic heart attack by feeding the patient a few more tubs of greasy debt.

So my assessment is that we’ll face an even bigger fiscal and maybe monetary crisis in the future.

We are compounding our mistakes.

But you know what?  We've faced economic problems before as a nation and solved them, and if this was the only problem we faced, we'd solve this one as well.

However, even as we're attempting to recover from our self-inflicted economic wounds, several vital facts stand in the way of a full and lasting recovery.

Let’s discuss a few of those facts:

Fact #1:  There are 70 million more people on the surface of the planet this year than last year.

Fact #2:  Each of these new humans consumes some amount of resources, such as food, oil, air, soil, water, copper, coal, or timber.

Fact #3:  Someday, perhaps already, maybe a little later, the global flow rate of oil coming out of the ground will peak and then decline inexorably thereafter.

Fact #4:  Every dollar in circulation was loaned into existence, with interest. We’re going to get back to this one in a minute.

Fact #5:  During the industrial revolution, humans have consumed vastly more energy each decade.  During the lifetime of a 22-year-old, humans will have burned more than half of all the oil ever consumed throughout history.

Fact #6:   Oceanic fish stocks, ancient aquifers, and topsoil are all being depleted at unsustainable rates.

When I review these facts, I come to this opinion:  Within our lifetime and that of our children, these disparate facts will coalesce into the greatest economic and physical challenge ever faced by our country, if not humanity.

It is also my opinion that if we do not develop a clear picture of the world we wish to create, the economic chaos and turbulence that we are now experiencing will prove to be the opening salvos in a long, disruptive period of adjustment.

It is my belief that we still have the time, resources, and know-how to create a brilliant future of our own design, but that by putting our energies into sustaining the status quo, we will default into a future shaped by disaster.

The reason I am standing here now, and have dedicated my life to building a better future, is because I believe it can be done.  I am at once both realistic and optimistic.  Yes, you can be both, it doesn't break any laws…that I know of.

If you have the sense that we are on the wrong track, that perhaps each day things are getting just a little bit more out of control, moving just little bit faster, then you share my assessment of our current situation.

But it doesn't have to be this way, and an ever-growing number of people are opting to build a better future.  I am among them.

Let’s get back to those pesky facts.

Each one was tied to all the others by a single common feature.

In each case, the thing being described was tied to exponential growth in some way.

Now, I know that most of us aren’t accustomed to thinking about exponential growth, so before you start counting the ceiling tiles, let me see if I can bring the dynamic of exponential growth to life.

Suppose I had a magic eyedropper that could dispense a drop of water with a most unusual trait – this drop of water will double in size every minute – and I place a drop of water in your hand.

At first, you’d just have a lonely drop of water sitting there, but after one minute it would double in size, and after six minutes you’d have a blob of water that could fill a thimble.

Do you have a sense of that growth?

Good.  Let’s go to a Major League Baseball Park and start over.

To make this interesting, let’s assume that the park is water-tight, and that I’ve handcuffed you to the highest row of bleacher seats.

Now imagine that it’s tomorrow at twelve o’clock noon, you are manacled to a bleacher seat, and, way down there on the pitcher's mound, you see me bend over to plop down a magic drop of water so small you could not possibly see it from where you are sitting.  And it begins to double.

My question to you is, at what date and at what time would the park be completely filled?  That is, how long do you have to escape from your handcuffs?  Do you have days?  Weeks?  Months?  Years?

The answer is this:  In only 49 minutes, the park is completely filled.

You have only 49 minutes to escape from your handcuffs.

Now let me ask you this:  At what time do you suppose that the park is still 97% empty space (and how many of you will appreciate the seriousness of your predicament)?

The answer is that at 12:44 pm, the park is still 97% unfilled.  The first forty-four minutes filled just three percent of the park, while the last five minutes filled the remaining ninety-seven percent.

It took from all of human history until 1960 to reach a population of three billion people, but only forty years to add the next three billion.

Forty four minutes for the first three percent, five minutes for the final ninety-seven percent.

And because we are surrounded by exponential growth, we need to appreciate it.

For quite a while, everything seems just fine, but a few minutes later, your park is overflowing.

Time runs out in a hurry towards the end of any exponential growth system, forcing hurried decisions and severely limiting options.

So how does this pertain to our economic landscape, you might ask?

The truth is, there’s nothing inherently wrong with exponential growth, as long as you have unlimited room and unlimited resources.

However, we live on a finite planet, and there are clear signs that several key resources on our planet are in their final minutes, to use our sports-stadium example.

Few of these resources are as important to the health of our expanding economy as crude oil.

“Peak Oil” is the global extension of the observation that individual oil fields, without exception, produce slightly more oil each year up to a point (“the peak”), after which they produce incrementally less and less oil each year thereafter, until their economics force abandonment.

It is a fact that the US hit its peak of oil production in 1970 at approximately 10 million barrels a day and now produces barely half that.

What holds true for America holds true for the rest of the world; we have peaked in our production, and some day the world as a whole will peak, too.

It is also true that global oil discoveries peaked some 45 years ago.

Because discoveries must precede production (you’ve got to find it before you can pump it), we can be certain that production will peak as well.

We might disagree over the timing of Peak Oil, but not the process.

I’m focusing on oil, because without energy, no amount of additional money would make the slightest difference in our lives.

Economists love to say that higher oil prices will stimulate new oil production, as if high prices themselves could magically create supply.

Here’s a joke:  If you lock three economists in a basement, they won’t worry about starving, because they know their grumbling bellies will cause sandwiches to appear.

But just as higher prices for fish will not cause more cod to come from the depleted fisheries, oil fields will yield their treasures in accordance to geological limits and not because our economics textbooks say they should.

On November 9, 2009, the Guardian newspaper reported that a whistleblower identified as a senior employee of the International Energy Association told the paper that the world is much closer to Peak Oil than official estimates, but that the agency had toned down its reports to prevent panic in the markets.

While we might be tempted to dismiss these explosive charges, we really shouldn’t, because this story is urgent, whether it is true now or will be ten years from now.

It is urgent because adapting to a future of less and less oil will take decades of preparation.

It’s urgent because when we consider the time, scale, and cost involved in switching over to an entirely new technology or energy platform, the realities are startling.

Considering transportation, for example.  Even if the world magically started churning out fifty million carbon-fiber electric cars per year, and they were the only ones being sold, at current replacement rates it would still take ten years to swap out only half the global fleet.

So TIME is a critical factor.

But it’s doubtful that enough lithium exists to create batteries at that scale, and the next generation batteries are nowhere near going into production at that scale.

So SCALE is an issue.

And what will the cost be to create all this new technology?  Not just the dollar cost, but the energy cost, as well?

As sobering as these realities of TIME, SCALE, and COST are, there is an even more profound and immediate economic issue tied to Peak Oil that we need to consider.

To understand this particular idea, I need to go back to one of the prior facts, and it is Fact #4:  Every dollar in circulation was loaned into existence, with interest.

Without getting into the details of it, which I do in the Crash Course, the effect of loaning all of our money into existence, with interest, is this:  There is always more debt than money floating around in the system.

Always.

If you want empirical evidence, consider this:  Today there is some $52 trillion dollars of debt in the US system, but less than $10 trillion of money.

The other feature is that the amount of debt will compound over time; that is, it will grow exponentially.

The reason is this:  Because there’s more debt than money, new money has to be loaned into existence to pay the prior debts, which means more money has to be loaned into existence to pay back THAT money, and so on, and so on, and so on...

Because our debts are growing exponentially, this places incredibly strong pressures on our economy to grow similarly.

After all, debts are paid back out of the productive economy.  And if debts are growing exponentially, the economy has to as well or the debts cannot be repaid.

As long as our economy is continuously growing, our financial system, which is really just a mountain of debt, is stable and happy.

But if the economy slows down too far, or, heaven forbid, retreats, our entire system becomes unstable and threatens to collapse, causing government officials to panic and blindly throw trillions of dollars into the financial machinery.

Well, any six-year-old can spot the flaw in this system – nothing can grow continuously forever.

But the conundrum is that our current monetary system demands continuous growth forever.  Fortunately, there are alternatives.

Okay, we are now in a position to join the economy and energy in a way that will give us a critical insight into what the future will hold.

This is the part where we talk about another totally predictable event that is headed our way.

In order to service debts, cash flow representing real wealth has to be generated.

All wealth comes from the resources of the earth.

To understand what I mean, it’s useful to segment what we call wealth.

Primary sources of wealth come directly from the earth. These would be rich, thick soils, concentrated ore bodies, or energy that comes from the ground.

If you own any of these, you have wealth and might even be wealthy.

Secondary wealth occurs from the actions of people transforming and transporting the primary wealth to markets.

Rich soil becomes food, ore becomes steel, and oil becomes gasoline.

And there is a third type of wealth, mainly consisting of paper abstractions, that we layer over the first two.

Examples would be credit default swaps, mortgage-backed securities, stocks, and bonds.

What’s important to understand here is how these wealth sources are layered.

Without primary wealth, you cannot create secondary wealth.

And without these forms of wealth, our paper wealth would neither exist nor have any meaning.

What this gives us is the important insight that the abundance of the earth is our primary source of wealth.

This should be obvious, but it is easy to forget, living (as we do) in a world that worships abstract wealth.

So given that all wealth comes from the earth, it might be wise to ask ourselves, from time to time, if the earth can provide all that is expected of it.

And what exactly does an exponentially-increasing mountain of debt expect?

Well, it explicitly assumes an exponentially-increasing supply of primary and secondary wealth.

And this has largely been true up to now.  Each year, more energy, more copper, more food, and more everything has been produced and distributed.

How much do we want to depend on this always being true?

Is there anything on the horizon that might call this model into question?

One expectation about Peak Oil is that once the decline gets underway, available oil will shrink by 3% to 5% each year, if we’re lucky, and more if we’re not.

This will translate into a roughly comparable level of economic decline, given that we’ve not yet begun the immense project of reorganizing our energy infrastructure.

What will a 3% to 5% per year economic decline feel like?

That’s easy; it will feel like 2009, because that’s roughly how much global GDP retreated.

Which means post-Peak-Oil will feel like an endless parade of 2009s.

Is it possible that we can grow our economy in a way that will satisfy our existing debts without also growing our use of fossil fuels?

If so, nobody has yet described how with specifics.

Without any such plan, I can tell you exactly what will happen, and it’s not a pleasant set of predictions.

An energy crisis rooted in resource limits will quickly translate into an economic crisis unlike any other.

What follows next will be a disappointing string of associated crises, starting with a food crisis, progressing through a profound fiscal crisis that could even result in a dollar collapse, and proceeding to a population crisis.

But you know what?  If we choose, we can avoid that future.

The good news is that we don't need any new technologies to save us.

They'll be nice when they come along, but we have everything we need right now to align our economics and resource use with reality.

And we don't need any new understandings to be developed.

Brilliant people have been working at the margins for decades, defining the issues and finding new ways of doing more with less.

What we lack is political will.

But there’s good news here, too, because more and more people are waking up all the time to the fact that humanity's long experiment with "more" is about to end and an exciting new chapter is about to begin.

Where people's minds go, politics will eventually follow.

The really excellent news is that if we manage the transition elegantly, we can actually improve things.

A life with less pollution, more free time, meaningful jobs, more happiness, less stress, and greater connection to each other as well as to nature are all within the realm of the possible.

But only if we correctly diagnose the predicament and respond intelligently.

Our challenge, then, is not to find vast new resources to exploit, but to undertake the far more sophisticated and worthwhile task of using what we’ve got more wisely.

So I remain hopeful and optimistic, not because of anything I see in the current political landscape, honestly, but because of the fact that you are listening to this now.

You get it, I get it, and more and more people are getting it every day.

But we'd get there faster if we had a common vision, a national narrative to follow that made sense, and leadership to inspire us and take us there.

If we want to create a better future and live in a world shaped by design and not disaster, we will have to develop dramatically different ideas, values, and priorities, and begin to refashion what we do around these new ideas.

We need to begin telling ourselves new stories about who we are and what’s really important to us.

In the past, with extremely abundant resources at hand, we had the luxury of making bad choices without really suffering any significant consequences.

But the stadium is now mostly filled, the water is rushing up the stairs, and our margin for error has shrunk considerably.

The longer we fiddle around, the more our options shrink.

Today our wrong choices will be magnified manyfold by virtue of where we are in our resource-depletion curves.

And so will the good choices.

We must be intelligent and creative stewards of what remains.

The best news?  I know we can do this.

We need our bright and shiny kids in the next generations to know that they've got an important role and that we've got their backs as they wrestle with the challenges now laid at their feet.

Change is not easy, but sometimes it is necessary, and we find ourselves in a time of need.

How the future turns out is up to us.  We have this responsibility at this time.

I don't have all the answers, and I can barely conceive of all the things that need to be done, let alone imagine their details.

But I do know that the first step begins with a proper understanding of the issues and that we are now in an era where it is the very largest picture that will serve us best.

There’s an elephant in the room, and we need to put our hands on it and describe it fully and accurately.

The alternative is to somehow miss seeing the next most predictable crisis in all of history coming towards us.

In closing, I am not all depressed by what I see coming, nor exhausted by the thought of all the work laid out before us.

Truth be told, I am excited to be alive at this time - to be in the game when the entire trajectory of humanity may shift course.

You really can't ask for more than that.

I have a proposal: Together, let’s create a world worth inheriting.

Thank you.

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64 Comments

Jeff Borsuk's picture
Jeff Borsuk
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
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Posts: 150
Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

Great job, Chris!

Keep rockin'!!

Jeff

yagasjai's picture
yagasjai
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Posts: 49
Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

Outstanding. Sounds like you knocked it out of the park! ;)

pinecarr's picture
pinecarr
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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

Wow, Chris, did you ever polish-up your speech into a real gem!!

It communicates your message with crystal clarity and power. And you somehow succeeded in balancing your presentation of the diametrically opposed poles of "the devastating truth of our reality" and "optimism for the future".  (How the heck did you do that?!:)  Excellent job!!! 

I can almost sense the vibrancy of the presentation; I wish I'd been there to hear it, and to watch the audience react!

Romans12.2's picture
Romans12.2
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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

Wow that was wonderful and I felt inspired to watch the crash course again....it's been about 6 months.  I'm not afraid either, just so grateful that I understand what is coming.  So grateful to have all these brilliant minds to learn from.  As a homemaker, small business owner, I'm very un-educated about all things economic.   I'm struggling with so many of these threads, but trying to put myself out there and learn what you all are talking about! 

I keep trying to talk my husband into cashing in our money market account and buy some retreat property, but he's not quite there yet.  I'm disgusted with the money we invested into an annuity, only a few years ago, that I can't do anything about....In the mean time, shopping for supplies like crazy and buying PMs every chance I can....thanks again

JohnV's picture
JohnV
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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

There are things that can be done before the water starts spilling over the top of the stadium, but I doubt if our democratic institutions or the "market" are up to the task of recognizing the problem and responding in any effective way.  The global effort to address climate change is a case in point. 

Buckaroojim's picture
Buckaroojim
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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

With every new presentation and addition to the 'big view' perspective you make, Chris, I grow more appreciative of your efforts. More than anything, it is the attitude of  "realistic optimism" which communicates something rare in this time of either denial or doom&gloom. I recently came across an author named Robert Harrington whom I know the readership of this website would find great value in. His book, To Heal the Earth, is a phenomenal read, and he still actively pursues changes to the education system in Canada (where he is from) to reflect that view. An article he wrote on Ecology, Education and Economy in 2005 is one of the most brilliant articulations of what is needed in terms of reorienting our minds and worldview to be in alignment with a sustainable course that I have read yet. Here is a link to it:

http://www.policyalternatives.org/publications/monitor/october-2005-thre...

Best of fortune with the UN presentation.

Jim

spinone's picture
spinone
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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

Inspiring, Chris.  But time is running out, and inspiration isn't enough.  What do we do?

SagerXX's picture
SagerXX
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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

Congrats, Chris!  Happy to hear it went really well!

Viva -- Sager

plato1965's picture
plato1965
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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

Excellent speech.

Concise description of the problem ^H^H^H^H  predicament , and a positive attitude about solutions.

The difficult part is working out how to react.. how much energy and effort to invest and at what level..

A global response would be great.. a national one ditto...  failing (or parallel to) that.. community and individual..

How each of us will fare in the future will depend in a mixed way on all 4... we all have a huge stake in things that are beyond our individual control, but deciding how much energy and focus we apply at which level is tricky...

We can look to purely global solutions (frustrating but a large prize), or purely individual.. (simpler) or a mixed strategy.

Chris has chosen both a practical individual response coupled with a global educational one.  The first is smart, the second is noble...

For most of us the individual bit is hard enough, and what other energy we can spare will probably be local.

I think the forum could be much better focussed so that instead of concentrating on the past, or present, we share exp[erience, knowledge and ideas about how to survive and thrive... how to be less dependent on the unsustainable.. how to be more resilient...

The categories and sections of the forum will determine the type of conversations that happen.. and how constructive the user input is..

Good ones will nudge the collective imagination towards strategies and solutions instead of futile, reactive criticism..

James Wandler's picture
James Wandler
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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

plato1965,

These are great points I wrestle with as well.  I've gone a fair ways down the individual path but I've come to the conclusion that I need local community.  Chris has pointed out that he has a group of eight gentlemen that work together on building community and that if he moved somewhere else re-establishing this would be the first thing he would do. 

The trick is how we can do this ourselves? 

One great angle is FoCuS where Chris is speaking tomorrow evening (Jan. 28th)... but I'll let Chris and/or ckessel tell that story which I expect you'll hear shortly...

The most power we have is in groups.  We can do a lot ourselves - but wouldn't you want to multiply yourself exponentially if you could?  That's what happens if we can bring others along to the task.  I think that's also why Chris stepped up to the plate globally.

So yes - we need to take individual action because change has to come through our hands as well as our minds and hearts.  But I'd say that the better part of that action should be sending people the vision to empower us to work together.

Cheers,

James

girlflower's picture
girlflower
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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

Hi Chris!

I was there at the Commowelath Club. It was indeed a sold-out and more! I wanted to say hi and ask if you have time for a cup of coffee/tea since you came from so far away, but many people wanted to speak with you, so I left. I am the Asian lady who sat in the front row :)

R u free for a cup of afternoon tea/coffee on Friday or anything on Sat? Once you give me a date and time, I can try to organize everyone here on PeakProsperity.com who also live in the Bay Area to meet together :)

Hear from you!

Girlflower

Erik T.'s picture
Erik T.
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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

Folks, let me give you a sense of what this was like...

I walked into the Commonwealth Club at about 5:15. Sadly I was there to see Elliot Spitzer speak; Chris' talk had sold out very quickly after being announced and I was unable to get tickets.

The Commonwealth Club is on the 2nd floor and is accessed by escalators. But they are those very narrow single-file escalators with just barely enough room for one person and no room to pass.

A man stepped on behind me and I got the strong sense he was agitated or in a hurry. His body language was very wound up. I was in no hurry since I already had a confirmed ticket for Spitzer, so I started to turn around to ask if he wanted to pass me. But before I could say a word, the staff were carrying out "Sold Out - Sorry" signs to place at the top of the elevators. The poor guy panicked and burst past me, sprinting up the escalator hoping to get in under the wire for the waitlist for Chris' talk before they started turning people away! Now that's dedication!!!! I've been a member of the CC for a couple of years and have never seen that kind of enthusiasm over ANY speaker.

The CC really screwed up by putting Chris in the small room. Hopefully next time they'll put him in the Blue Room where he can reach a larger audience.

Unfortunately, the story has a sad ending... Later in the evening I caught up with Chris after his talk, and learned from others who were present that the guy who rushed past me didn't get in. Too bad. He certainly gets an A for effort!

Erik

Erik T.'s picture
Erik T.
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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

girlflower wrote:

R u free for a cup of afternoon tea/coffee on Friday or anything on Sat? Once you give me a date and time, I can try to organize everyone here on PeakProsperity.com who also live in the Bay Area to meet together :)

Girlflower

Hi Girlflower,

It's not really my place to speak for Chris, but I since I happen to know a little background, I can fill you in.

Unfortunately, Chris has already left the city - he had a big talk in Sonora and several other meetings. When he was originally planning this trip, I know for a fact that Chris wanted very much to set up a "meet up" as you describe - pick a restaurant and invite anyone on the site who lives in the area to come by for a beer and a chat.

What happened is that Chris' schedule filled up very quickly, and so far as I know, he was unable to set up a meetup group. Believe me, it's not for lack of interest on his part. Chris is the kind of guy who values community abolve almost all else, and he would have loved to do this. But he's been flat out on this trip and my understanding is that it just didn't work out.

Hope this helps,

Erik

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Great State of the Union Speech

Dr.M,

That was the best State of the Union speech that I have ever heard (read). What? A guy can dream can't he?

All the best...Jeff

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Re: Great State of the Union Speech

I think the Big O gave everyone a "the party is over" speech.

He made his intentions clear to the Supreme Court - there will be no money to candidates for campaigning, the military WILL get cut back, Big banks WILL get taxed, Congress & Senate WILL work together, Government funding WILL get pulled back, Corps & people making over $250K WILL start paying taxes, . . . besides the unemployed, people about to loose their homes and the average American - who DIDN't he promise to rack over the coals?

Of course - the ? is - how can one guy Hope to make That much Change? My first guess - he needs to up his security and the people need to show their support for his pure gutsy'ness. EGP

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Re: Great State of the Union Speech

EndGamePlayer wrote:
I think the Big O gave everyone a "the party is over" speech. He made his intentions clear to the Supreme Court - there will be no money to candidates for campaigning, the military WILL get cut back, Big banks WILL get taxed, Congress & Senate WILL work together, Government funding WILL get pulled back, Corps & people making over $250K WILL start paying taxes, . . . besides the unemployed, people about to loose their homes and the average American - who DIDN't he promise to rack over the coals? Of course - the ? is - how can one guy Hope to make That much Change? My first guess - he needs to up his security and the people need to show their support for his pure gutsy'ness. EGP

No offense but I disagree. 

First I voted for Nader the seat belt "freak". Just sick of the two party illusion. But, I will say I was elated that Obama got in and for the first month supported him. Then I realized he talks the talk and walks in a different direction. He is, for whatever reason, the definition of rhetoric. 

Not that it matters, we are insolvent and financially hitting the mother of all reset buttons - that will shake this insanity spending until it - and everything else - crumbles.

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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

.I wouldn't bet the farm on energy becoming a limiting factor. Alternative energy is on the cusp, with China leading the way. Also, peak oil may not occur for many years. No one has any way to know. I bet we'll make the transition from oil to alternatives rather seamlessly over the next twenty years.

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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

wroth5 wrote:

.I wouldn't bet the farm on energy becoming a limiting factor. Alternative energy is on the cusp, with China leading the way. Also, peak oil may not occur for many years. No one has any way to know. I bet we'll make the transition from oil to alternatives rather seamlessly over the next twenty years.

Hope you are right. I forget the exact numbers but I seem to recall we produce like 88 million barrels per day and use between 87-89 mp/d.

That is now. A depression would slow that. Any false economic spur would increase that. All fields I know of are in decline. There is no dipstick. New fields are years away.

Who really knows. They keep tossing the "We didn't leave the stone ages because we ran out of stones to rub" around. Well, there wasn't and isn't a shortage of stones. 

I'm optimistic. Not nearly as optimistic as CM. I myself would be if they had a Manhattan project on this. They don't. IMHO we are leaving this up to the chance that someone invents something at the last second.

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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

Just to be clear, I was saying that Dr.M's speech would have been a great State of the Union speech. I didn't listen to Obama's speech. Sorry for the poor wording on my part.

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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

ErikTownsend wrote:

Sadly I was there to see Elliot Spitzer speak; Chris' talk had sold out very quickly after being announced and I was unable to get tickets.

Not to get off topic, but what did Spitzer talk about and how was it? Too bad he got caught up in personal problems, he sems to have some really good ideas.

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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

Girlflower,

Thank you for attending, I'm sorry we didn't get a chance to connect or meet afterwards.  As Erik told, we tried hard to find a time and location to have a public meet and greet but the details just never quite came together.

Right now I am in Sonora where I will be giving a public talk to quite a few people.  Several local people here have done an absolutely spectacular job of preparing and have drummed up quite a lot of interest and we're expecting a pretty large audience tonight.  More than 330 tickets have been pre-sold, more are expected at the door, and one member from this site is coming up from Texas, so we're all vey excited to by the energy and the opporunity to help align the people here around the challenges and opportunities.

Preparing for all this required me coming out right after the Commonwealth Club talk so that limited my flexibility on that end and I leave right afterwards from Sacramento on the other end.

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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

I liked the CC speech.

Good luck in Sonora.

SG

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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

A lot of "ifs" in that speech.

It is certain there will be a decline.  It is also certain the class antagonisms that have caused the disparities in wealth will not disappear anytime soon.  One thing we can draw from these two statements is the class that owns most of everything will want to continue to own most of everything.  We've seen over the last 40 years how the 1% has increased their fortunes at everyone else's expense.  Wages have been flat or declining.  Productive work has been outsourced.  Since the 70's the fortunate 1% have increased their share from about 25% to 50%.  This is right back to where it was before the New Deal.  These are the same folks who maintain the illusion of infinite growth on a finite planet.  Their measure of wealth is debt instruments.  If their past behavior is any indication of their intentions, they will likely want to continue to increase their fortunes and externalize the consequences.  However, I don't believe they are so foolish as to ignore the coming crises in energy and commodities. 

The propaganda system they've built over the last century has done a pretty good job of convincing the producers of the wealth to part with a good share of it as long as the supply seemed ever increasing.  And therein lies the rub.  When it becomes glaringly evident that the supply is in fact decreasing, the propaganda system will start to sputter.  The political class will have to resort to more traditional means of societal control, namely, intimidation and violence.  It's nice to talk about a rational and scientific approach to the coming scarcity.  If we plan ahead and share out the scarce resources at least everyone will have enough to eat and stay warm.  This runs counter to the paradigm that resources are to be funneled upward so that the political class can be maintained in their cozy world of infinite growth.  The warrior class usually throws in with the political class.  They will see their salvation in protecting the assets and privileges of their masters. 

One can see the truth of this in the bail-outs of the Too Big To Fail institutions.  The government has taken whatever measures necessary to preserve these institutions.  Dismemberment or reformation were simply not on the agenda.  As government is the agent of the political class, we can expect this principle to be played out repeatedly.  Main Street will be left out in the cold to fend for itself.  The state of the union address spells this out.  Discretionary spending will be frozen in 2011.  The states will be left to their own devices.  Without the power to reorganize productive behavior, the states will have only more debt as the alternative.  As more services are eliminated, social unrest will escalate and we're back to the traditional methods of social control.  Spending on so-called security was also explicitly left out of the coming spending freeze.  The warrior class will be exempt.

The coming era of scarcity will not be a smooth transition with everyone sharing the pain.  It will be punctuated by various contractions in the availability of energy, food, medicine, arable land, etc. and massive dislocations in attempts to secure the same.  Persistent class antagonisms will only make the process worse and quite likely bring on struggles for access to or control of resources.  Recall that the political class in Haiti and the US were quite comfortable with the likes of the Duvalier regimes.  With tens of millions of American workers already unemployed, hungry, and without access to medical care, is it reasonable to expect class conflicts to diminish?  The Long Emergency will not be remedied in 22 minutes plus commercials.

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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

I have no idea how Chris can be optimistic.

It would be interesting to know how many of those in his audience change their lives to any appreciable degree. More people may be getting the message but I see very little evidence that they understand the message. My guess is that only one or two of Chris's audience will be living differently, or have solid plans to do so, within a year.

Unfortunately, Chris's message can give the impression that other people will get change happening and that the change only requires a bit more, or even a lot more, efficiency.

The bottom line is that sustainability requires us to consume no non-renewable resources (none, zip, nada) and only consume renewable resources at, or below, their renewal rates, and only in ways that do not degrade our biosphere. Now, of course, that won't happen overnight, or maybe even this century, but without that being our conscious destination, collapse will occur well before there is a glimmer of a hope for a change to the right direction.

Chris said, "Brilliant people have been working at the margins for decades defining the issues and finding new ways of doing more with less." The audience will take that away and assume that eventually the political will will be there to ensure those brilliant people get their chance to show that we can do "more with less". Consequently, people don't need to change much and maybe, just maybe, we can continue to have economic growth (more) using less, for ever.

Tell it like it is, Chris! We need to start changing now, and we need to start moving towards sustainability. Unsustainable societies can't be sustained and no-one (or, at least, not many) wants collapse.

I agreed with everything Chris said, except his optimism.

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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

sofistek wrote:

I have no idea how Chris can be optimistic.

....

Optimism depends greatly on one's expectations and outlook.  If one expects or desires our current lifestyles to continue as is then the message is pessimestic, because the current ways are unsustainable and huge change seems inevitable.  However, I am optimistic that the impending changes can (maybe, if we work hard) be used to develop a higher quality, albiet different, life by simply giving up a lot of what we think we need. 

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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

Sofistek and Durango

I agree with you both. i personally found not much reason for optimism. The speech was a great synopsis of the Crash Course. It clearly is the mission to educate people to our "predicament" . But I found no meat on the bone. I did not hear the ideas that the brilliant people at the margins have been working on. Yes we can grow tomatoes,  yes we can switch to cfl's We can make sure our tires are inflated. But what about the structure of our economy and our political system? What do we do to change back to a republic from an oligarchy? How does one become optimistic when the vast majority of the American people voiced their opposition to the bailouts and it passed anyway. How do you change back to a true capitalist system when nearly 2/3 of the people of this country receive some form of compensation from the government. What is the program? What are the nuts and bolts? Where is the beef?

V

btw. I first heard Bucky Fuller say " do more with less" That was a long long time ago. We now will have to make do with less.

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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

I'll tell you what is optimistic.

When people like Chris can talk to you like an adult and say "here are the problems we are facing I know it looks bleak but we can over come it if we accept that these problems exist."

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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

I think its hilarious that proponents of Peak Oil are constantly trying to out-do each other with their personal expectations of oil-less doom and gloom. How do you ever expect anyone to take your argument seriously when your personal identity is such an extensive component of your argument?

Personally, the only reason that I accept the idea that Peak Oil is a possibility is because of Dr. Martenson. Now you criticize his methods and efforts? 

Maybe you would have been happier if Dr. M's speech consisted of this:

"All ya'll are dead meat, but your too stupid to know any better. Thanks for coming out."

Sorry if I have over-reacted, but given the context of this event, your criticism of Dr.M's speech is just as offensive to me as this post is to you.

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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

'I went from twin engines to a double paddle.' -- Dr. M.

LOL! And the kayak is more maneuverable, to boot.

Brilliant speech, too. I guess it goes without saying (since it did go unsaid) that a country which fritters away its investment capital on a foreign military empire is not going to make the change to a sustainable future.

Such a message would be considered 'political' by some. But it's one of the most basic macroeconomic facts. A sustainable economy and a metastasizing NATO alliance are wholly, fatally incompatible. This subject is not even on the political radar screen, as the president exempted 'national security' from his proposed discretionary budget freeze.

Oh well, another item to add to the 'to do' list. Thanks again for posting the rousing call to action.

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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

machinehead wrote:

'I went from twin engines to a double paddle.' -- Dr. M.

LOL! And the kayak is more maneuverable, to boot.

Brilliant speech, too. I guess it goes without saying (since it did go unsaid) that a country which fritters away its investment capital on a foreign military empire is not going to make the change to a sustainable future.

Such a message would be considered 'political' by some. But it's one of the most basic macroeconomic facts. A sustainable economy and a metastasizing NATO alliance are wholly, fatally incompatible. This subject is not even on the political radar screen, as the president exempted 'national security' from his proposed discretionary budget freeze.

Oh well, another item to add to the 'to do' list. Thanks again for posting the rousing call to action.

+1 and as always = beautifully put!

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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

@SteveS

Spitzer's talk was recorded and is available (as should be Chris') at www.commonwealthclub.org.

Erik

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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

V wrote:

I agree with you both. i personally found not much reason for optimism. The speech was a great synopsis of the Crash Course. It clearly is the mission to educate people to our "predicament" . But I found no meat on the bone. I did not hear the ideas that the brilliant people at the margins have been working on. Yes we can grow tomatoes,  yes we can switch to cfl's We can make sure our tires are inflated. But what about the structure of our economy and our political system? What do we do to change back to a republic from an oligarchy? How does one become optimistic when the vast majority of the American people voiced their opposition to the bailouts and it passed anyway. How do you change back to a true capitalist system when nearly 2/3 of the people of this country receive some form of compensation from the government. What is the program? What are the nuts and bolts? Where is the beef?

Seems to me that since macro solutions are not forthcoming from our 'leaders' in .gov, we should all of us smart people here at CM.com be busy nutting out localized solutions to whatever issues we perceive may become troublous as we move forward.  To the extent that any of us see problems/issues and cannot at least begin to have a slash at solving them ourselves, then we're toast, IMO.  Why is anyone waiting for the cavalry to show up and rescue their booties?  Seems to me that WE have to be our own cavalry.  If that is a challenging or depressing thought I don't know what else to tell you.

Dr. Chris had this thought in the 'Reflections on Commonwealth' thread:

"As I see it, if we can just change our ideas, the rest will fall into place.  My model for this is Burning Man, the 80,000 person spectacle that arises in the Nevada desert each year proving that when people get a different idea about how to organize themselves, it happens.   Instead of trying to dictate all the things that we need to be doing differently at a micro-level, establishing a new set of ideas around which individuals, organizations and communities can self-organize seems, at least to me, to be the correct approach."

Leaving aside one's personal feelings about 80k semi-naked technopagans, the no-master-plan-but-it-organizes-out-rather-noicely meme is valid.  Seems to me that (as I've posted elsewhere on CM.com) if we organize our immediate surrounds, and then push out from there, at some point we'll bump up against like-minded folks doing the same thing.  

As always, my glass in 2/3s full...

Viva -- Sager

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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

JAG,

I'm not trying to out-do anyone with personal expectations of doom. The argument should be taken seriously on its own merits, not on the basis of whether I expect change to happen quickly enough.

The idea of peak oil is a reality, peak oil itself is more than a possibility, unless you believe in an infinite supply of oil that can be produced at any rate for any length of time. It is ridiculous to say, as the boss of Aramco said at Davos, that one doesn't believe in Peak Oil.

Chris gets it, most definitely. What I criticise is that the message can appear watered down, especially to those who are looking for a fairly easy way out, and for those who are in denial. Whilst much of the speech was hard-hitting, there was just enough wishy-washy stuff in it for the attendees to be able to think that the problem will be dealt with.

I didn't find your post offensive, because I've become hardened to that type of come-back to the message of reality.

SagerXX,

Absolutely correct that solutions aren't forthcoming from governments. I don't expect any in future. We each need to start acting in a realistic way and preparing as best we can. However, if society, as a whole (and governments have a major part to play there) doesn't start to change, it can be difficult to individuals to prepare, in the midst of a collapsing society.

Woodman,

I'm optimistic too, but that kind of life will have to arise from the ashes of a collapsed state. That will make it very difficult and maybe even less likely to emerge, as survival takes centre stage and utopia is put on the shelf.

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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

sager wrote:

Seems to me that since macro solutions are not forthcoming from our 'leaders' in .gov, we should all of us smart people here at CM.com be busy nutting out localized solutions to whatever issues we perceive may become troublous as we move forward.  To the extent that any of us see problems/issues and cannot at least begin to have a slash at solving them ourselves, then we're toast, IMO.  Why is anyone waiting for the cavalry to show up and rescue their booties?  Seems to me that WE have to be our own cavalry.  If that is a challenging or depressing thought I don't know what else to tell you.

+10 Sager!! 

Yes, it sure would be great to have macro as well as local solutions.  So if that is what you believe, then the question is, how can you contribute to making this happen?  Can you do something to initiate a macro-level effort yourself?  Or are there people already out there trying to nurture macro solutions that you can support in some way?  I mean people like Chris and others who are working to help people become aware of and understand the situation, and transition more gracefully (less painfully) to whatever the new reality is that we are heading towards?

I know the situation can be depressing and overwhelming.  But complaining about problems is an easy (and ineffective) way out.  And believing it is someone else's responsibility to deal with these problems at the macro level is also an easy (and ineffective) way out. 

Taking personal responsibility to be a part of a constructive effort to solve these problems ourselves is hard, and it is daunting.  But that's the task we face. 

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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

sofistek wrote:

SagerXX,

Absolutely correct that solutions aren't forthcoming from governments. I don't expect any in future. We each need to start acting in a realistic way and preparing as best we can. However, if society, as a whole (and governments have a major part to play there) doesn't start to change, it can be difficult to individuals to prepare, in the midst of a collapsing society.

I guess my big pet peeve is that we must not remain sidelined (as individuals/small groups/whatever) just because we can't see where exactly we're going or what exactly the end result will be.  Waiting for ideal conditions to put change into play is just another way of giving up and doing nothing.  

Once enough small groups of people are already making what changes they can, 'society as a whole' will start to shift.  

Viva -- Sager

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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

Hi Chris (cc Erik),

Your message to all of us is very impt and we appreciate your effort in bringing this forth in such a concise manner. Keep it flowing!

Not being able to meet up is fine... just be sure to know we welcome you back in CA anytime!

Cheers,

Girlflower

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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

I have a suggestion... we need more people like Chris who understand what is going on and can get the priorities right, to run for president, congress, etc. The more abled the people there are who are "up there", the easier it is for the ball to start rolling!

Another thing: education... more n more people are getting it... keep doing it! We need leaders who are educated.

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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

Chris,

It's interesting that you apply the exponential function to our problems but not to our solutions - they must be linear according to your approach.  I'll take at face value your assertion that it would take 10 years to replace half of the automobile fleet with cars powered by lithium batteries but does your analysis straight-line the current productivity numbers or does it anticipate innovation and increased productivity?  Does your analysis include the likelihood that other types of batteries will be available in the next ten years?  I would guess not (although I must say that I'm not sure that replacing every car currently in existence with a battery operated car is something we would want to do in any event).

You seem to insist that innovation cannot solve problems and you do so by applying current technology to the future and presenting it as "facts".  It's difficult to understand why you do this.  Is it because you insist that innovation is tied to a growth economy?  Given your level of education it's hard to imagine that you make that mistake.  Innovation is at the heart of sustainable living.

I recommend your Crash Course to many people.  Your analysis is brilliant.  Your conclusions, however, are dreary and less than inspiring.  Insisting that we already have all the technology we need is not only erroneous, it is an attack on the creativity that will drive solutions that may not yet be evident.

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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

Hice 420 wrote:

Chris,

It's interesting that you apply the exponential function to our problems but not to our solutions - they must be linear according to your approach.  I'll take at face value your assertion that it would take 10 years to replace half of the automobile fleet with cars powered by lithium batteries but does your analysis straight-line the current productivity numbers or does it anticipate innovation and increased productivity?  Does your analysis include the likelihood that other types of batteries will be available in the next ten years?  I would guess not (although I must say that I'm not sure that replacing every car currently in existence with a battery operated car is something we would want to do in any event).

You seem to insist that innovation cannot solve problems and you do so by applying current technology to the future and presenting it as "facts".  It's difficult to understand why you do this.  Is it because you insist that innovation is tied to a growth economy?  Given your level of education it's hard to imagine that you make that mistake.  Innovation is at the heart of sustainable living.

I recommend your Crash Course to many people.  Your analysis is brilliant.  Your conclusions, however, are dreary and less than inspiring.  Insisting that we already have all the technology we need is not only erroneous, it is an attack on the creativity that will drive solutions that may not yet be evident.

I know that this was directed at Chris, but allow me to step in....

Actually, I think 10 years to replace half the cars is extremely optomistic. A new car technology (like any new thing) can grow exponentially but only if it doesn't run into external limits. With cars you have a durable item that limits the number of new cars that can be introduced each year. The downturn in the economy affects the rate of new car purchases. Low oil prices limits the desirability of smaller. efficient cars. etc, etc.

I do agree that is important to consider the huge impact that a new technology or new energy source can have. For example, one limit to the growth of cities and transporation in the late 19th century was how to deal with horse manure. The technology of cars and gasoline completely changed the paradigm. And we may yet see a similar game changer in our future. But what if we don't? Even if we had unlimited gas or electricity, we have pretty hard limits of other resources like copper and, yes, lithium. My favorite slide from the CC is the shot of the copper nugget as big as a car from 100 odd years ago and the shot of a modern copper mine. Population growth and economic growth will run into hard limits no matter what new the technologies we devise. Technology also has hidden consequences and history is rife with examples.

I find Chris' message very inspiring. I find the condition of this world distressing. I am ashamed at how my country (USA) wastes resources. But Chris shows us a way out. Simplify, get back to basics, slow down. I have started doing this. A small example: my wife and started a small garden last year. It's given us extra quality time together, makes me proud of what I can do, and gives me a feeling of extra security. We also buy as much local produce as we can and have made new friends along the way. This is a much more rewarding scenario than some new technology.

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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

I am fascinated with people who have elevated technology and human ingenuity to the level of belief, if not further.As always, this site is about backing up opinions and beliefs with facts as much as possible.

I am very pragmatic about technology and simply insist that anybody who wants to extrapolate dreams of a high-tech future needs to at least consider time, scale and cost.

As someone who has actually been in the business of producing things with my hands (construction) I suspect that I have a more viceral feel for the vast gap that exists between a concept and a physical thing than people who haven't.

But that's not the main point.  The main point is that extrapolating future miracle productiviy and technology gains is to make the explicit assumption that a vigorous and complex economy is there to support those gains.  Which means that the implicit assumption is being made that sociey has more net free energy available to it than it does today.

In short, it is not I who is linearly extrapolating from the past into the future, it is the person making the argument that the future will be just like today, only with more productivity and more amazing technoloy.  I am allowing for the possibility that the future might not resemble the present and that our collective failure to appreciate the role of net free energy in the advance ofsocietal complexity is a glaring blind spot.

We do not have unlimited resources and energy and this is not 'gloomy', it is simply reality.

If you really want to impress me with the idea that new batteries will magically arise to solve our problems, then please bust out a pencil and paper and calculate the rough realities of production.  How many will be needed?  How does this compare to the largest conventional battery factories currently in existence?  What materials will they need?  Any limits there?

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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

Hice 420 wrote:

I recommend your Crash Course to many people.  Your analysis is brilliant.  Your conclusions, however, are dreary and less than inspiring.  Insisting that we already have all the technology we need is not only erroneous, it is an attack on the creativity that will drive solutions that may not yet be evident.

Hice -

Chris doesn't need me or anyone else here to carry his water, but your statement here is idealistic and utopian.

Not to mention that until such "solutions" become evident they don't exist.

It seems like you are waiting/hoping on one of these "solutions" to fall from the sky before taking action to mitigate what is coming.

The rest of us are not counting on the magic beans - instead we are extrapolating what we see now into the future, developing a picture of how we think that future is going to impact our lives and planning to meet that future.

Should a sack of magic beans show up on my doorstep tomorrow I can only hope they are heirloom beans and not Monsanto GMOs.

You might call this a pessimistic approach to the challenges we face.

Just remember that pessimism is the same thing as optimism, only with a lot more reality.

nickbert's picture
nickbert
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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

Hice 420 -

Why would the solutions be exponential?  Technological innovation tends to follow an 'S' curve, not an exponential function. 

IMO it's not that innovation cannot solve problems, but rather we shouldn't make our plans assuming new technology and innovation will solve our problems.  If something new comes along down the road that happens to solve some of our problems then that's great; but to have a plan for the future that assumes and is dependent on such an innovation involves a lot of risk.  How many people who were alive 4 decades ago after watching the first Apollo moon landing assumed that we'd have routine space travel, moon bases, and vast orbiting space stations like in the movie 2001 A Space Odyssey?  Ok that was before my time, but even having grown up in the 80's and 90's I myself figured we would at least have had manned missions to Mars by this date.  And this didn't mean our society lacked innovation; we merely saw innovation turn in unexpected and new directions with the exploding growth of the Internet, huge advances in computer and telecommunications technology, and exploring new frontiers in genetic research.  All great things, but it just happened to turn out that the space program wasn't the primary beneficiary of those innovations.  If I'd bet the farm 20 years ago that continuing innovation would allow me to create a mining business on the Moon by now, I'd be one unhappy entrepreneur Cry

The point is that in the presence of many unknown variables, it's reasonable to be conservative in making long-term plans or assumptions for the future.  Assumption is the mother of all... er... 'screw-ups'.

(Edit- Dang, everybody beat me to the punch. I could have saved time and just wrote "yeah, all that stuff they said" Wink)

- Nickbert

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sofistek
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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

SagerXX,

Once enough small groups of people are already making what changes they can, 'society as a whole' will start to shift.

Yes, but the question still remains whether there will be enough small groups before society starts to collapse. I have no confidence that there will be. My situation is a case in point. My family (wife and two adult children) understand the problems we face but still don't "get it". Although they're supporting what I'm trying to do (become as self-sufficient  and as sustainable as we can) the support is weak and they are still firmly ensconced in the current society (i.e. almost no change in the way they do things and view the world). It almost seems as though they think they should make use of what society offers now, because it ain't gonna be there in future. Of course, until people make real changes, in their own lives, then nothing will change in society.

Unfortunately, I see a similar lack of conviction in those who tend to green policies. They want public transport and renewable energy but both at a scale that allows more or less the same activities to go on as now.

I have no idea how this can be turned around.

Dogs_In_A_Pile's picture
Dogs_In_A_Pile
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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

sofistek wrote:

I have no idea how this can be turned around.

sofistek -

That's the beauty of the whole thing.  It can't be turned around.  It is going to happen.

And when it does you (we) will have the undivided attention of all of those who previously didn't get it - but now do.

And with a little luck your efforts up to that point will make it easier for them to make the transition you have already started.

V's picture
V
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
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Posts: 849
Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

"Once enough small groups of people are already making what changes they can, 'society as a whole' will start to shift."  

Viva -- Sager

i appreciate your optimism, and your genuine desire for change. Certainly we all can do something on the micro level and things have been done on the micro level and will continue to be done. Unfortunately the things you seem to be promoting are amounting to having the same affect as a flea on an elephant.

There have been many groups, communities, communes etc that have tread that path. The Amish for one come to mind as well as the Mennonites, the Branch Davidians, the Elohim community, the Shakers, the Covenant Arm and Sword of the Lord, The Farm to name a few. Some have gone down in flames in places such as Ruby Ridge and Waco without much of a change in the dynamic on the Macro level. The landscape of America is littered with the remains of the communes of the 70's back to the land movement. 

If Mayer Amschel Bauer really said it or not the truth of the statement  " Give me control of a country's money and I care not who makes its laws." is irrefutable. Or put another way "He who has the gold makes the rules"

As long as "they " have the gold "they" will continue to make the  rules. The rules will continue to be enforced by the most powerful military the world has ever known.

I have yet to hear any "big ideas" that will make a difference ..............in my lifetime anyway. The Matrix is subtle, ubiquitous, seductive and VERY powerful. 

Best of luck with the community.

Cheers

V

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Hice 420
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Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

Chris,

As astonishing as it my be to you, I'm not particularly interested in impressing you.  You seem to think that rolling out your resume as a guy who "produces things with his hands" qualifies you as the arbiter of what is and what is not a fact.  It is this hubris that demeans you and your message.  The "fact" is that you don't know what the future will bring.  I would suggest that you ponder Einstein's admonition that No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.

We live in a world where scientific discovery is increasingly in conflict with our experience.  Let’s assume that you are sitting at a heavy oak table.  You know from middle school physics that the table is mostly empty space; the mass of the atoms in the table is minute while the “empty space” consists of electromagnetic fields.  Your head, its bones, skin, and the brain itself have the same characteristics.  However, if you bang your head on the table the solid density that you, I and everyone else perceives will become more “real” than the facts that we know.  So we continue to act as though things are solid when we know that they are not and we learn to live with the paradox of our perceptions being out of kilter with what we know to be true. Invention is the attempt to reconcile these two experiences.  The impossible becomes possible and prior experience seems quaint.

I think your contribution is useful; it helps people gain a different perspective.  It is your dismissal of everyone who has a different perspective as not dealing in what you term "facts" that is discouraging.  No doubt you will continue to cultivate a following and no doubt there will be some benefit but in the long run I'm afraid you are insisting on being a marginal player.

SagerXX's picture
SagerXX
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Posts: 2120
Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

(this is where Hice produces his Mr. Fusion power unit [can run a small town on a 1/2 kilo of used coffee grounds a day] or an internal combustion engine that runs on water....)

Dogs_In_A_Pile's picture
Dogs_In_A_Pile
Status: Martenson Brigade Member (Offline)
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Posts: 2491
Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

SagerXX wrote:

(this is where Hice produces his Mr. Fusion power unit [can run a small town on a 1/2 kilo of used coffee grounds a day] or an internal combustion engine that runs on water....)

and waffles between denial and bargaining.

Mike Pilat's picture
Mike Pilat
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 8 2008
Posts: 929
Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

Hice -

I don't think your example of an oak table is adequate. I don't know of anyone that has reasoned it to be a pleasurable experience to bang their head into the table.

More than anything else, I think it's clear that Chris is identifying challenges that we face. If anything he's the one warning us that the oak table will hurt if we bash our heads into it. Chris has refrained from presenting specific solutions but rather calling attention to problems that are not getting the attention they deserve. He's warning of risks without forecasting the details of the future.

Perhaps you can provide a better approach? Perhaps you have evidence of technologies that will bail us out and can be developed quickly and cheaply? Perhaps you think using "quads"  as a unit of measure should apply to debt as well as BTUs? If so, I would be interested in hearing you clarify your thoughts and vision. This is an open forum, show us that you are not a "marginal" player, please.

Thank you,

Mike

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jpitre
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 3 2009
Posts: 366
Re: Big Ideas at the Commonwealth Club (Transcript)

Hice

Good to hear from you, but for the life of me, I don't understand what you are trying to say.

If you have some good and/or better ideas, please enlighten us. You seem to be saying that you agree that there is a problem, however not a hint as to how we can better approach the issues other than to suggest we need a higher level of consciousness.

Lead on to higher consciousness

Jim 

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