Podcast

Jorgen Randers: Our Species' Biggest Risk is Our Lack of Coherent Long-Term Decision Making

The author of 'Limits To Growth' reflects back
Monday, May 28, 2012, 3:05 PM

Forty years ago, a group of researchers at MIT ran a study to address the question of how humans would adapt to the physical limitations of a finite planet. That study became the book Limits to Growth.

It should have been a starting point for a critical discussion at the national or even global level. It could have led to the birthing of many practical and then-implementable initiatives that mighthave brought our unsustainable demographic, industrial, and consumptive behavior under better control. But sadly, the book instead became a lightning rod for controversy. And decades later, the issues it warned of loom larger than ever.

In this interview, Chris discusses our collective failure to act on this book's message with Jorgen Randers, one of the authors of Limits to Growth and Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update as well as a new book, 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years.

While there are some differences in opinion between Jorgen and Chris, particularly on the acuteness of our resource predicament, both agree that continuing to pursue the status quo will result in a poorer quality of life for most of the world's denizens. We increasingly appear to be facing a future shaped either by design or disaster, and unless we actively decide to intelligently change our behavior, the latter outcome will prevail.

Chris Martenson:  The part that I personally am concerned about is the idea that it’s around money itself, and that money is a marker for real things and as long as there’s a balance between your real stuff and the amount of money, things are okay.

What we are discovering now is that a lot of promises have been made in Europe, in the United States, Japan. There are pension promises and entitlement. They are fairly long-range projects that say, “We are going to take some money in today, and we are going to give that back to people over time in their purchasing power.”  An important concept that you are bringing up: What will be delivered to them? We take it today; we deliver it back in the future? Those promises now are many, many times larger than the GDP of the world currently is, and so one thing is absolutely true in this model, as it’s constructed right now, is that in order for the pension and entitlement promises – those cultural, societal promises we made to ourselves to be true or to be kept, we need the economy to grow a lot, not in nominal terms but in real terms. Nominal meaning not inflation-adjusted, real being inflation-adjusted.

What you are describing is that we’ve already hit a period of stagnation for a set of reasons. It’s a very complex system, so those reasons could be manyfold, but at least part of that in my mind has got to be around what we are seeing with our net return from energy that we are getting back out of the ground; that’s a cornerstone of my set of arguments and thinking. And so as we cast forward over this next period of time, what do you see as -- here’s the general sweep -- I can describe all non-renewable natural resources like this: They are all of much, much, much lesser quality than they used to be. So we are not chasing ten percent copper grades anymore; we are chasing 0.2% copper grades. We are not chasing oil that is 1,000 feet down; we are chasing oil that has to be cooked off of sand because it’s not actually oil, it’s bitumen or something worse like kerogen. We are no longer finding vast surface deposits of things like coal; we are out of anthracite; we are through the bituminous, practically; we are into the sub-bituminous. Now we are looking at lignite.

So to these stories are all a story of saying "less and less concentrated resources, which require more and more energy in order to extract." So we have those sweeps coming along and we are on our way to nine billion from seven billion and all of these things come together. When you put all those in your model, what turns up in forty years?    

Jorgen Randers:  So what turns up is the first thing, namely that we will try to grow but we will not succeed. The second thing, which turns up, is that I don’t think resources are going to be the problem. If we were to put the finger on one problem it is lack of coherent long-term decision making.

So in order to make my view in contrast to yours or try to make the contrast between the two a little clearer, I think that the reason why the United States is not going to be on a per capita basis richer in 2050 than it is today has nothing to do with the resource unavailability. I think that are enough resources available to handle the U.S. need to 2050, particularly since the U.S. need is not going to increase very much over the next forty years. But the reason why I think there will be problems in the United States is that the U.S. is incapable of making the societal decisions that are necessary in order to move coherently in a progressive direction.

You know, and the current stalemate in your [Congress], you know, between the two sides that basically keep each other from making clear decisions on anything is the real head of the monster, the way I see it. And that’s the reason why I think that China is actually going to do very much better. They are in the same resource-constrained world as is the United States. And they are much less well endowed domestically with resources than the United States is. Still I think they are going to do much better because those gentlemen are at least capable of making a decision. You know, they analyze the problem, they see what is the problem, and if they have a problem – they solve it.

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Jorgen Randers (44m:05s):

Transcript: 

Jørgen Randers

Chris Martenson:  Welcome to another PeakProsperity.com podcast. I am your host, of course, Chris Martenson. What do we want the world to look like in forty years? It’s a really important question. In any credible business, one develops a strategic business plan, and no matter which of the many excellent strategic methodologies one employs, the basic output is the same, and it consists of the answers to just two questions – Where are we going? How are we going to get there?

Of course, the challenge goes beyond deciding where you’d like to be and then simply arraying your always too-limited resources intelligently against that task, because there’s uncertainty, there’s competitors, potential disruptors – both positive and negative – along the way. Nothing is ever really linear and neat; the future instead is typically shaped by chaotic systems and exponential growth. So any good strategy must take note of these realities, put a stake in the ground, and yet remain flexible.

What then is our national or even global strategic plan? Do we even have one? Where are we headed? Do we have a far-reaching crisp and flexible strategic plan that all the key stakeholders understand and intelligently align their activities around? Well, if such a plan exists, it’s well hidden from my view. A simple reading of the daily newspaper reinforces the idea that if our current trajectory had to be defined by a single word, I would choose the word “unsustainable.”

Now, forty years ago, a group of researchers at MIT ran a study to address the question of how humans would adapt to the physical limitations of a finite planet. That study became the book, Limits to Growth. And it should have been a starting point for a discussion, but sadly, instead became a lightening rod for controversy with some dismissing the study without even having read it, as far as I could tell, let alone having a serious adult-sized conversation about it.

So here to discuss that study, is Jørgen Randers, one of the authors of Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update, as well as his new book 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years. Welcome, Jørgen!

Jørgen Randers:  Thank you!

Chris Martenson:  So could you tell our listeners a little bit about your background, what you currently do and what you are up to in life right now?

Jørgen Randers:  I am a 67-year-old professor, and obviously from Norway, as you can hear from my wonderful accent. I’ve spent one third of my life in business, one third of my life in academia, and one third of my life in non-governmental organizations. So I have a fairly broad perspective on life. I’ve spent the last year trying to write a clear description of what I actually think will happen over the next 40 years, and I’ve done this because I have spent the last 40 years trying to make the world a more sustainable place. And I admit, I don’t think I’ve had very much positive impact. And so now, since I’ve only 20 to 25 years left to live, I thought it would be interesting to find out what actually will happen, what kind of decisions humanity actually will be doing over the next 40 years.

Chris Martenson:  Excellent, so let’s start with Limits to Growth. Because there’s some history there, some experience with what worked and what didn’t. First, what was the purpose of the study of that book? What aims were you seeking to achieve in its publication?

Jørgen Randers:  This was way back in 1970-1972, that was the two year period of work. Largely what we tried to do was two-fold. First of all, to try to tell the world that the planet is actually very small, much, much smaller than you think, in resource and pollution terms, that is. And secondly, and much less observed, was the fact that we tried to answer the question What will happen when rapid population and economic growth hits the limits of the planet? You know: What happens when you crash with the boundaries of Planet Earth?

Basically, the way we told the story was to say that there are various possible scenarios. We described different ways in which the world future could evolve from 1970 to the year 2100. We had a fairly long time horizon, and the aggregate conclusion from all of those studies was that most likely what would happen was that the world would continue to grow throughout the 20th century and for a generation into the 21st century. And in the process, it would reach levels that could not be sustained, in the sense that they would require more resources and generate more pollution than the world could handle. And then we could get the crash basically back down into sustainable levels in the middle of this century.

The book was, however, not only a warning that this was the likely development on a 100-year horizon. It was largely written by young, enthusiastic, and optimistic people like myself who all believed that once people listen to this message, they would quickly do those very few things that are necessary in order to create the sustainable world. And that’s, of course, where I’ve been disappointed over the last forty years.

Chris Martenson:  It turns out that sometimes information alone is not sufficient to really create the change we’re seeking. Before we talk about that, let’s get a definition under our belts – “sustainable” and its derivative “sustainability.” Can you define those for us?

Jørgen Randers:  Yes, I can, and it’s actually simple, although most people think it is very complicated. Sustainable simply means that it can be continued for a very long time without change. So if you rely for your well-being on the use of a non-renewable resource, and that non-renewable resource, be it oil, or coal, or gas or titanium – if that resource is limited, and you are using a little part of it every year, this thing is not technically sustainable in the very, very long run. However, if at the same time you spend money on R&D to develop a substitute for this non-renewable resource, which you can then shift into, once you have used up the non-renewable resource, then I would say that your behavior is sustainable. So it’s simply to answer the question – how long can I do what I do now without changing style or behavior? And if that is more than a couple of hundred years, I would say that the thing is sustainable; if it is less than twenty, I would define it as clearly unsustainable.

Chris Martenson:  Right. When I read Limits to Growth, I saw it as – first of all, it’s a modeling study, so there’s lots of inputs and, of course, uncertainties around these inputs. But the thrust of the argument to me seemed to be to say Listen, if we try and maintain status quo, indefinitely, that’s impossible. Because status quo requires us to indefinitely use up what are clearly non-renewable natural resources. So that will have to shift, and you are saying there will be some adaption to this scarcity that might arise because we all find substitutes and find other ways around some of these. And some of these will require us to adopt new stances, of course. Because once you run out of something that doesn’t have a clear substitute, then there’s not much you can do about that. You just have to simply adopt a different stance. So solar thin film that requires some thing like indium or gallium, which we just don’t have enough of, and some day we run out of that, well, if that’s it, we probably won’t be relying on those particular types of solar panels but we will shift to something else, would sort of be the message. As you look into again, with Limits to Growth, I’m very interested – to me, that seems so sensible. What was the controversy about, then?

Jørgen Randers:  Well, I think that you are absolutely right, that there was controversy in spite of, as I said, their message being very optimistic and very positive. It basically said that as long as we watch out for the physical limitations on the planet, the planet is more than big enough. You and I know our ability to find substitutes or re-direct our society’s behavior. It’s big enough that we can create a sustainable world for very many people. But the reception was not along those lines.

First, since people apparently dislike intensely to change behavior, they are, of course, quickly looking for ways out. And the simplest way out was to attack the assumption that the world is small. You know, in 1972, most people seemed to live with the belief that the world is actually very big, that there are places where you can find those resources that are currently limited in one place, and that you can easily dump the pollution somewhere without bothering too many people.

And so I think most of the discussion in the 1970s was on the question of whether or not the world is small. And the antagonists argue that it is much bigger than we assumed in our model systems. And in many ways, they won the argument, because 20 years down the line, when the first Rio meeting occurred in 1992. Limits to Growth was in many ways discredited in the sense that it was viewed as a weird report by the Club of Rome, not to the Club of Rome but by the Club of Rome, which actually had the wrong message.

Chris Martenson:  So this is an interesting sort of a point here, which is around what we might consider a challenging message – how that gets out and gets adopted and understood by people. And one of the things that I run up against a lot is – one of the primary logical fallacies sometimes when I’m discussing my work, is, people will say Oh, you know there was this guy Thomas Malthus who said something like that once, and he was wrong. Therefore, you’re wrong. Which is one of the largest logical fallacies there is.

So forty years ago, you were definitely ground breaking, and I’m really thankful that the conversation, even if it didn’t go swimmingly, got started on some level. First unpleasant messages are ignored, then they are attacked, and then you win. So maybe we’re somewhere along that spectrum – forty years has passed, and here we are today. And I would argue that the world is in a different position to begin to accept the idea that there are limits to some things. Maybe to groundwater; that’s certainly known in some parts of the world. Maybe to the amount of soil that you have. Maybe to the amount of oil, that’s certainly becoming clear – at least cheap oil is in the rear view mirror at this point. There are other forms but it’s vastly more expensive that what we used to get, etc. and so forth.

So before we dive into your new book, tell me about what you’ve seen shift. Here we are forty years later. What kind of a reception are you experiencing now?

Jørgen Randers:  That’s a good question and an important question, because I think that the major thing that has occurred over the last forty years is that most people know that we are in unsustainable territory in the sense that the current way of life on Planet Earth requires more planets than the one we have got. We are requiring more resources than the planet can supply every year, and we are dumping more pollution every year than the planet can absorb. So we are in overshoot, which is the technical term when the footprint of humanity exceeds the carrying capacity of the planet. The simplest example of this is, of course, climate change, and the fact that humanity is emitting roughly twice as much CO2 every year as is being absorbed by the world’s oceans and its forests.

And so for practical purposes, in the practical debate about the limit’s and growth and sustainability, I think for the time being, it’s helpful to concentrate only on climate, on energy, and the use of fossil fuels and the resulting CO2 emissions. Because that’s such a clear case of overshoot, and it has the other pedagogical advantage, namely that the technology necessary to reduce our greenhouse our gas emissions, while at the same time maintaining the quality of life that we have and the purchasing power that we have. All those technologies are available as we speak, and the cost of implementing them, if we decided to do so, are miniscule; a couple of percent of your income.

Chris Martenson:  Right, and yet in many cases, that isn’t being done. But at this time, across the surface of the globe, adoption of anything is going to be uneven. Where have you been invited to speak lately? Who is actually, at, say, a national level, beginning the process of looking at this idea of sustainability of limits, of things like that?

Jørgen Randers:  It’s interesting that in spite of it being both technically feasible and relatively cheap to solve the climate problem, it is largely not being done. We have no one speaking as humanity for twenty years or so, since the Rio meeting in 1992, when we started the UN Convention on climate change and decided to do something. Since then, we have basically been speaking, and emissions are growing faster now than they have grown ever. You know in the history of man. So mostly nothing is being done except talking. If you then start looking at who actually does something, it’s interesting that – first of all, the European Union, is amazingly progressive on this score. The Commission in Brussels, which is a non-elected group of bureaucrats, are actually quite progressive on this score and are trying to push the members of the European Union into sane policies with some degree of success.

Another interesting player that is doing much more than people think are the progressive multi-nationals. You know the really big multi-national corporations. They are often doing a number of useful things in this area, largely because they have a much longer time horizon than most people. They are concerned about their own reputation twenty years down the line and would like to avoid mistakes.

And the third group, which is of interest and actually does much, much more than you should expect, is the Communist Party of China. The Chinese are at the same time organizing a tremendous economic growth and a tremendous increase in their resource use and in their pollution output. But at the same time, they are probably going to be the ones who will solve the climate crisis on behalf of the world because they are putting enormous amounts of money and effort into climate-friendly technologies and climate-friendly behavior.

Chris Martenson:  Well, my reading of China is that they clearly do understand the resource limitations. Obviously their mercantilist policy of open checkbook, acquiring land in Madagascar, copper mines in Afghanistan, oil rights all over the world – they are scouring the globe looking for resources. And it turns out that good, good economic policy in a resource-constrained world happens to be good climate policy, it happens to be good environmental policy, it happens to be good reduced, reuse recycle policy – they all actually converge.

And so this is one of the mysteries to me, how the debate has been framed as you are either pro-environment or pro-business, when in fact, if you frame it correctly, they are on the same side of the playing field.

Jørgen Randers:  I agree, and I think the most interesting example here is the United States of America. Where a sane energy policy would, of course, try to stop the reliance of the United States of America on imported oil from the Middle East. And this can be very easily done in the United States, by building a number of windmills in the prairie and then instructing Detroit to make electric cars. And as described by Al Gore in his book a couple of years ago, within that ten-year period, you could do this with great support from the farm lobby, which would be happy to have the windmills on their wind-blown territory. And Detroit is, of course, capable of producing electric cars if instructed to do so – you know, instructed to sell them. This policy, which would be sane energy policy, which would have short-term benefits in the United States because it would drop the reliance on the Arabs. You know it’s also exactly what you would do if you wanted to introduce a climate policy in the United States, namely, trying to phase out the use of coal, oil, and gas as fast as possible. And of course, this is the way to phase out the use of oil – which is largely used to run automobiles.

Chris Martenson:  So it is a complete mystery, because there are many things that we can identify using existing technology – and in many cases, decades-old technology – which would, whether your lens was “I care about national security,” or “I care about the climate.” Or “I care about social justice.” Meaning people can’t afford energy anymore as it rises in price against disposable income. Or “I care about jobs.” I don’t care which lens you look through, I can find all kinds of technologies out there that you’d say…well listen…like heating hot water. You can do that very simply with a solar thermal panel – very easy technology. And we are currently burning hydrocarbons, lots of them, to heat water, which we don’t have to. We could cut that to zero in many parts of the country and by at least half in the remaining parts. And we don’t do it – even though it makes economic sense, political sense from the job standpoint, you know, social sense – it makes all kinds of sense, but we don’t do it, so we need to. That, to me, says we have a problem with our narrative. It’s not the information itself, it’s the story – there’s something they’re blocking us from doing that.

And I want to turn now to your new book, 2052 – A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years. I presume one of the intents of this book is to sort of lean on the conversation – to open that narrative up. Tell us about your book, you spent a year writing it. What are you seeking to achieve and then we’ll move into what’s in there?

Jørgen Randers:  At the personal level, what I’m trying to achieve is rather selfish. I would like to know what will actually happen over the next twenty to twenty-five years, in the sense that I have been worrying about the future for forty years. And it has really bothered me every day; you know that humanity tends to make the wrong decisions every week, relative to my world view. So, no, I thought it would be interesting to try to find out how much damage, how much wrong decisions in democratic society and in capitalist system – is going to create on that forty year or that twenty-to-twenty-five year horizon, which is my remaining lifetime. So that’s the personal motivation.

The professional motivation is basically to try to kick the system in another way. I’ve tried to work for sustainability in all possible ways thus far, but I’ve not tried to scare people into doing something. So this is that kick, trying to say that, you know, if we continue more or less as we have done in the past, you know we will really get the climate crisis in the second half of this century.

Chris Martenson:  And I would go ever further, faster and suggest that preservation of the status quo will lead to an economic crisis of an extraordinary dimension. We’re already in the early throes of this, because our economic model is based on infinite growth – exponential growth. Not a lot, two or three percent a year, maybe five if we are having a good year. And that requires – you know, what is an economy but the flow of goods and services? So those goods, what are those? You chase them back, those are resources. So what we are really saying is we need two, three, four percent more stuff coming out of the ground next year compared to last year.

And that’s just...I think we’re already pretty close to that limit in a number of places, so this is fine, you know we have slightly less stuff coming out of the ground, it doesn’t sound like a disaster. But in fact, when your economic model, your money system, requires that growth in order to behave. It can be a problem – a huge problem – and so the reason I care about that is that many of the things you are talking about, in your book, in terms of things we could do or that Amory Lovins talks about from the Rocky Mountain Institute about things we could do, require a complex and functioning economy to get them done. Because these are, in many cases, very sophisticated technologies, and to adopt and implement them on a grand scale will require extra ordinary resources. So I concur with the idea that it’s time to kick the can...kick the patient? [laugh] Because time is wasting at this point, compared to the size of the predicament.

So, status quo, we don’t change anything, we just trundle along until circumstances really force us to take a good hard look at this as a culture, as a society, as a globe. What does that future look like?

Jørgen Randers:  Well, this is the one interesting finding. I had thought a year ago, since I have spent forty years thinking about these things, that I have thought about most of the things that one could think about in this context. But I think I have learned one new thing from doing this study, and that is what you just said needs to be phrased. Basically what will happen in the rich world, or the oil rich countries – the one billion people that are in the industrial world – what will happen? Half of which are in North America and the other half elsewhere. What will happen is largely that we will try to continue economic growth – you know, we will try to pursue the model over the last forty years, and we will discover after the fact that we do not achieve any growth.

So to speak about it in simple terms, you know the autoworkers in Detroit have been hoping to have a raise sometime over the last thirty years, but when you look back at the raises, they have actually been eaten up by inflation. So in reality, the take home after tax pay of a guy in Detroit now, a blue collar worker, is the same as it was thirty years ago. In spite of living in a society that is trying to grow, has been trying to grow all along, and to some extent, even has succeeded in growth, what I think will happen over the next forty years is that the guy won’t get a raise even during the next forty years. And most of the Americans will be in that category, that America will try to increase its GDP, but it will not succeed. Meaning that the upturns in the economy through one or two or three years will be eaten up basically by the ensuing downturn two or three years, and so we will come out fifty years down the line more or less at the same GDP numbers as currently.

And we will luckily have a slightly smaller footprint, because there will be technological advances in the use of energy per unit of GDP and there will be also improvements in the climate game so that the footprint will be lower. The economy will be the same, and people will feel much, much poorer than they feel today, because they will have been through a endless forty-year period of stagnation, basically.

Chris Martenson:  Well, I agree with the general sweep of that, and the part that I personally am concerned about is the idea that – it’s around money itself, and that money is a marker for real things, and as long as there’s a balance between your real stuff and the amount of money, things are okay. What we are discovering now is that a lot of promises have been made in Europe, in the United States, Japan. There are pension promises and entitlement. There are fairly long-range projects that say We are going to take some money in today, and we are going to give that back to people over time in their purchasing power.

An important concept that you are bringing up is, what will be delivered to them? We take it today; we deliver it back in the future? Those promises now are many, many times larger than the GDP of the world currently is, and so one thing is absolutely true in this model as it’s constructed right now: That in order for the pension and entitlement promises – those cultural, societal promises we made to ourselves to be true or to be kept, we need the economy to grow a lot, not in nominal terms but in real terms. Nominal meaning not inflation adjusted; real being inflation adjusted. What you are describing is that we’ve already hit a period of stagnation for a set of reasons. It’s a very complex system, so those reasons could be manyfold, but at least part of that in my mind has got to be around what we are seeing with our net return from energy that we are getting back out of the ground. That’s a cornerstone of my set of arguments and thinking.

And so as we cast forward over this next period of time, what do you see as – here’s the general sweep. I can describe all non-renewable natural resources like this. They are all of much, much, much lesser quality than they used to be. So we are not chasing 10% copper grades anymore; we are chasing 0.2% copper grades. We are not chasing oil that is 1,000 feet down; we are chasing oil that has to be cooked off of sand because it’s not actually oil, it’s bitumen or something worse like kerogen. We are no longer finding vast surface deposits of things like coal; we are out of anthracite; we are through the bituminous, practically; we are into the sub-bituminous. Now we are looking at lignite. So to these stories are all a story of less and less concentrated resources which require more and more energy in order to extract. So we have those sweeps coming along, and we are on our way to nine billion from seven billion, and all of these things come together. When you put all those in your model, what turns up in forty years?

Jørgen Randers:  What turns up is the first thing, namely that we will try to grow but we will not succeed. So that’s the first one, and there are many reasons for that, which we can return to if necessary. The second thing which turns up is that I don’t think resources are going to be the problem. If we were to put the finger on one problem, it is lack of coherent long-term decision-making. So in order to make my view in contrast to yours or try to make the contrast between the two a little clearer, I think that the reason why the United States is not going to be on a per capita basis richer in 2050 than it is today has nothing to do with the resource unavailability. I think that are enough resources available to handle the U.S. needs to 2050, particularly since the U.S. need is not going to increase very much over the next forty years. But the reason why I think there will be problems in the United States is that the U.S. is incapable of making the societal decisions that are necessary in order to move coherently in a progressive direction.

And the current stalemate in your Parliament between the two sides that basically keep each other from making clear decisions on anything is the real head of the monster, the way I see it. And that’s the reason why I think that China is actually going to do very much better. They are in the same resource-constrained world as is the United States. And they are much less well endowed domestically with resources than the United States is. Still I think they are going to do much better, because those gentlemen are at least capable of making a decision. You know, they analyze the problem, they see what is the problem, and if they have a problem, they solve it.

You used the example that when they observe the fact that they cannot grow enough food, they buy land or at least lease land in Africa and elsewhere in order to provide the food. I can tell you that that is true. But it’s also very much against what the Chinese want to do in the long run. China has been self-sufficient for two thousand years, they are not interested in being elsewhere, and they would like to make a good life for the Chinese on Chinese territory. And that’s their long-term aim. And so the way I see it, their purchasing or leasing of land in Africa is a temporary stopgap and a very rational measure over the twenty-year period before they get their own agricultural system going. Plus their own population declining; they have pursued the one child policy now for twenty to thirty years, or actually since Deng, so it’s only twenty-five years, and the Chinese population will peak within the next ten years and then start to go down, which makes it much more easy to make China sustainable.

Chris Martenson:  All right, so I agree with that, with the view that China definitely has a view of the future, I can detect a credible strategic plan, whether they will succeed in it or not – open to question, but at least I see that they are facing what I consider to be the realities of the world. In your book, you add up many of these realities and say, Listen, if we don’t change, there’s some disruptions – potentially some very challenging times. Sort of almost the best case is we wake up in 50 years and discover we are all just a little bit poorer.” But there are some other outcomes that exist in there as well. And I note that you start the preface of your book with a quote from Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic, which basically says that Hope is as important as life itself. So you are 67; let’s subtract 47 years from that. What would you say to a 20-year-old today who looks through this lens, to what you are seeing in your book? Even if they are just reading the newspapers? And they are looking at a world that’s just fully indebted and crumbling, our lackluster infrastructure, and they see all of these challenges? That narrative that we’re asking our 20-year-olds to step into – how do you, what do you see for them, and what advice would you give them?

Jørgen Randers:  Two pieces. First of all, be in favor of a strong government. You know, basically teach or learn that individual action or market system is not going to solve the problem. It will require collective action in the form of governments providing regulations or legislation that actually makes it profitable for the corporate world to do the right thing. Currently the whole world is doing what is profitable; the world is not doing what is needed. And the reason is that the ordinary voter carries the floor, and most of those are not in favor of strong government, and consequently we have a problem. So my first advice to a twenty-year-old person is to learn and understand the rationality and the smartness of stronger government in the next forty years.

The second thing the person should be doing is to be aware of the fact that the main challenge is the climate challenge. And that basically means that he or she should stop using coal, oil, and gas. These are the main sources of climate gasses, and it’s very, very simple. Each time you are faced – you want to do something, just stop – just be sure that it doesn’t require coal, oil, and gas to do it. So it basically means that when you want to buy a home, be sure it is well insulated so that it doesn’t need a lot of electricity to run the air conditioning, and when you want to buy a car, buy a car that uses little fossil fuel per kilometer. And when you to fly somewhere, instead of flying twice on vacation a year, fly once and stay twice as long. Reduce your three major parts of CO2 emissions.

Third one, when one is making a forecast over the next forty years and looking into the question of whether the young are actually going to repay the debt and the pensions of their fathers and mothers, my forecast is that they will not. Many of us expect that we will be paid handsome pensions, and many of the wealthy that have lent money to people expect to get the money back.

I think that that’s a pretty moot wish in many cases; it’s even unreasonable in many cases that twenty or twenty-five year old people cannot afford to buy a new home which is the same standard as their parents. That they in addition to this should then pay pensions and pay back the debt that was accumulated by their parents to have lived way beyond their means for a period. And so basically, what you see in south Europe now, I think, is the first step in that process. Where a number of pensionees will see that they don’t receive all the pension that they expected to receive. And many bankers or capital owners will see that they have lent money, but they will actually not get it back. And that’s one way in which the system will solve problems in another surprising manner over the next forty years.

Chris Martenson:  So let me play devil’s advocate for a second. One of the things that’s really important, I think, is for individuals to have sense of agency, that their actions have consequence. What would you say to somebody who says Well, if I cut my carbon use, won’t that just mean that China burns it instead? Is there anything that you can see credibly on the horizon that says Humans will not extract every hydro carbon out of the ground and just burn it? Whether it’s us, an Indian, or a Chinese person, now or in fifty years?

Jørgen Randers:  This is, of course, what I have spent one year trying to answer. So my book is a quantitative description of exactly what I think the societies of the various regions of the world are actually going to decide to do over the next forty years. So essentially that’s a question of, how many children will they have? How fast will they be able to increase productivity in their societies? In other words, how much GDP will they be able to generate? Then comes the question of how fast will they manage to increase the energy efficiency of their economies, and then finally, how quickly will they be able to move their energy systems away from fossil fuels and into renewable? And I agree with you that on my radar, there is no collective global agreement to do these things over the next forty years – we simply will not be able to reach agreement on that.

But at the same time, luckily there are much saner societies on the surface of the earth than the United States, which are actually starting to do things even if the others are not doing a lot. And my book is a quantitative position forecast of who will do what and how much. And the sum of all of it, as I said before, is that you know things will progress. But still, in 2050, I think that roughly 60% of all energy will be fossil-based, only 40% will be from wind power and solar and nuclear and, you know, the non-CO2 sources. The temperature at the time will be plus two degrees centigrade over pre-industrial time, and thirty years later, in 2080, we will be at plus three degrees centigrade. When there is a danger than the permafrost melts and we do get self-reinforcing climate change.

So it’s basically a story where humanity acts much too slowly and then basically forces their grandchildren to live in a world where there is self-reinforcing climate change.

Chris Martenson:  Right, and so to somebody who’s young, stepping into this would like to feel that they’ve got some impact that they could really have on this. When I look at these large long-term forecasts, I see the grand sweep is easier to detect, which is that there’s shifting geo-political power and balances, a lot of it centers around resources. Interestingly, a lot of the so-called undeveloped world or developing world I consider to be in much stronger shape. Because they have less debt, they haven’t had the capital system there to really exploit the resources in a breakneck speed – Brazil, which used to be considered a developing world but it’s very much up the curve and they’ve got tremendous resources and what not – as we look into this future, what you are saying is, we need to really start making some changes very, very soon, very rapidly. These changes are going to happen to us, and I guess so we either face a future shaped by design or by disaster. And the idea here is to at least get the conversation going and saying what are the risk factors and we might not know everything about these yet.

But these are the risks as we see them and understand them today. How should we be arraying ourselves against these? And the puzzling part to me is, there is so much that we can do that doesn’t require any thing new to be discovered, understood, or introduced. It works – all we have to do is decide to do it. And that’s where this conversation gets interesting. And for me, when I talk to young people, I say that’s your opportunity right there! That’s where the hope is, is that we need to figure out how to just start doing – making – to put a term around it.

We either make the right decisions or the wrong decisions, and the right decisions are just sitting there. They are economically right, they are politically right, they are right on all dimensions except I don’t know what. They just run counter to our current narrative – whatever that happens to be. So in some ways, this is as simple as changing the story we tell ourselves.

Jørgen Randers:  I think much of what you are saying is correct. I think that if I were to put the dot at the end, I would basically say that the one major problem is the short-term nature of humans, which in turn is reflected by this short-term horizon of the capitalist society and of the democratic system of governance. Both of those systems, all three actually – individual, the firm and the parliament – are strongly focused on the effect of what they are doing over the next two to four years. They are not strongly influenced by what happens twenty to forty years down the line. And that is the basic problem. Unless we solve that problem in some way or the other, we will not handle the oncoming barrage of problems that will face us over the next century.

And my view is, of course, that we ought to try as hard as possible to overcome the short-term nature of man and the corporation and the democratic parliament. But I don’t think we will do so. We ought to, but I don’t think we will do so. And that is, my final word on the 2052 book. You know, I dislike intensely to describe the future that I do describe there. Because it is not the future that I would like to see. I would like to see a totally different society, where man, corporations, and the parliament actually make decisions where they do consider at least 50% of the weight on the long-term consequence of what they are deciding and thereby manage to get a more decent society for their grandchildren.

Chris Martenson:  And there’s the challenge. You’ve laid out the alternative to that more hopeful future in terms of your experience in watching trends and making your best guess as to where things end up. And there’s quite a few surprises in this book; you talk about how technology will both mitigate and create additional difficulties all on its own, and there’s quite a lot in here. And it’s very good. I’m looking at an uncorrected proof here, so it’s not yet in print here on May 24th. When does it come out?

Jørgen Randers:  You can go on Amazon.com and order it now, and they will start shipping on the first of June.

Chris Martenson:  Ah, very soon. Very good. This is Chris Martenson. of course, and we’ve been speaking with Jørgen Randers. Jørgen is spelled with a “J” – Jørgen Randers – and thank you very much Jørgen for your time today.

Jørgen Randers:  Thank you. It was a great pleasure, and I hope many people read the book and get irritated and help change the way the world is governed.

Chris Martenson:  Well said; thank you.

About the guest

Jorgen Randers

Jorgen Randers (born 1945) is professor of climate strategy at the Norwegian School of Management, where he works on climate issues and scenario analysis. He lectures internationally on sustainable development, and especially climate, within and outside corporations. 

Jorgen Randers is non-executive member of a number of corporate boards in Norway, including the multinational Tomra ASA. He also sits on the “sustainability councils” of British Telecom in the UK and The Dow Chemical Company in the US. Recently he chaired the Commission on Low Greenhouse Gas Emissions who reported in 2006 to the Norwegian cabinet on how Norway can cut is climate gas emissions by two thirds by 2050. 

He was formerly President of the Norwegian School of Management 1981 – 89, and Deputy Director General of WWF International (World Wide Fund for Nature) in Switzerland 1994 – 99. 

He has authored a number of books and scientific papers, including “The Limits to Growth” (1972) and “Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update” (2004) .

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35 Comments

SingleSpeak's picture
SingleSpeak
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Smart guy, bad advice.

Jorgen Randers said

So my first advice to a twenty-year-old person is to learn and understand the rationality and the smartness of stronger government in the next forty years.

     SS

marks's picture
marks
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Stronger government is code for communism

Chris, I like your information on the economy but you have to be careful as there is another narrative underpinning much of the environmental movement and that is a push for a single world government with unelected dictatorial power ruling all nations. It’s a platonic concept that the best and brightest should rule the entire world and they will do it on the basis of the environment. When this guest advocates stronger government and holds up China as the model he is obviously in favor of a communist style regime. The real solution is individuals doing the right thing and caring for the resources in their care, getting onboard with the narrative of individual sustainability as a smart idea, not a top down oppressive world government.

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The Singularity.

Mark, the evidence is that humans are incapable of making wise decisions.
Jorgen Randers and the Club are truthsayers to power.

Dmitri Orlov says that our trust in elected politicians is misplaced.
I am forced by circumstances to watch popular TV. This has given me an insight into the level of debate of the great unwashed. They are at best wilfully ignorant. How then, can they choose their leaders wisely?
My hope is that there will be an emergent property that springs from the interactivity of the internet.

At this stage the singularity is our best hope.
Already we augument our IQ with computer power.

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The wisdom of government

Randers would like us to believe that a strong, centralized government like the communist government in China is the key to our long term sustainability.  Hmmmm.  If I had the time (and I wasn't already sure of the answer) I'd like to research Randers's opinions about this subject back in the 60's and 70's.  I have to believe he had a similar affection for the strong, centralized communist government of the Soviet Union back then, and for similar reasons. That didn't work out too well for the Soviets and their oppressed people groups.  And undoubtedly China will melt down one day too.  Representative democracy certainly has its flaws, but at least in democracies the people have no one to blame but themselves for their failures.  I would urge Randers to shift his focus from what form of government might save us, and accept the fact that it is human nature that is our problem.  For instance, it is human nature to focus almost exclusively on short term thinking and neglect rational, long term thinking and planning.  This is not a fault of some forms of government but not others.  Forms of government cannot overcome the inherent flaws in the people in government and in general society.  I agree with markstay that if there is going to be a solution it will have to start from the bottom up from individuals, families and then communities who do the right and sustainable things. However, I don't think human nature can be overcome and we are doomed to crash and burn.  Some of the survivors will be mightily impressed with that crash and will learn and adapt accordingly.  

Don't get me wrong.  The Limits to Growth had a very big impact on me in the mid 70's and I think they hit the nail on the head.  They analyzed the basic problems very well and have been proved right to the extent that we've gone down the road they predicted.  It's just government-as-the-solution thinking that disappointed me over the years and holds absolutely no hope for me now.

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The state is the problem

It is the state that has legislated into existence the central banking institutions that exacerbate the insanity of the fractional reserve banking system by encouraging speculation by the banks that is at the heart of this mess. I believe it is this flaw in our monetary system that causes unsustainable consumption and utilisation of resources. When it is realised that peoples livelihoods cannot be sustained due to a lack of resources, the state solution is to try to paper over the consequences with new money disaffecting those who are most vulnerable and often the most prudent.

Randers compliments the Chinese and European states as visionary and asks us to support 'strong governments'! It is beyond me how people can look at the current situation and find the solution in more state power. One place where state should be exercising existing powers and isn't is in the prosecution of fraud. Of course politicians and state bureaucrats have a vested interest in maintaining our fraudulent money system yet this seems to escape seemingly intelligent people.

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 opps...

opps...

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Limits to Growth

I found the book enlightening overall and somewhat prescient when it first came out.  It discussed a number of issues that, when combined  were likely to change humanities future.  Frankly, the Martenson message confirms that much of what the book predicted in the 70s is coming to pass.

The part I didn't buy was the focus of the environmental message.  I still don't  Jorgen is focused on climate change and ignores environmental issues that, to my mind, are far more likely to cost lives.  Soil erosion, reduction of farmland quality, water quality and shortage issues are far more likely to impact us than theoretical climate change issues.

Top that with the evidence that non-environmental issues are likely to be more lethal than environmental issues and I'd say Jorgen's message today is a bit off track.

It reminds me of the deforestation focus of the book "Collapse." Another good book with a distorted focus.  "Collapse" lauded Japan for recognizing that they were destroying their land and switching to the oceans for a larger portion of their food needs.  The book didn't even consider that the demands on the ocean were possibly excessive.  Japan saved their trees!

In the narrative, Jorgen denigrates democracy and then at the end calls for more powerful government.  That's just scarry.  We've tried virtually every form of government that man has so far come up with and, flawed as it is, democracy has worked the best.

I'll agree that the average voter is not sending anyone to Washington that I respect or wish to run the government, but I can't get behind a non-elective government concept at all.  

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Stronger government is code for communism

markstay wrote:

Chris, I like your information on the economy but you have to be careful as there is another narrative underpinning much of the environmental movement and that is a push for a single world government with unelected dictatorial power ruling all nations.

I truly hate doing this to a first poster, but this is a load of nonsense....  I was a member of the Green Party for many years, stood in seven elections in Australia, and I can tell you there is no such agenda whatsoever.

All the environmentalists I know fervently believe in relocalisation and the end of globalisation.

in any case, there won't be any surplus energy to run a world government soon, it's all in your head.....

Mike.

Damnthematrix's picture
Damnthematrix
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Off track?

LesPhelps wrote:
Jorgen is focused on climate change and ignores environmental issues that, to my mind, are far more likely to cost lives.  Soil erosion, reduction of farmland quality, water quality and shortage issues are far more likely to impact us than theoretical climate change issues.

Top that with the evidence that non-environmental issues are likely to be more lethal than environmental issues and I'd say Jorgen's message today is a bit off track.

"Soil erosion, reduction of farmland quality, water quality and shortage issues" are EXACTLY what Climate Change will cause.  Or worsen.

Non-environmental issues will hit us first, and may well be lethal to some unprepared people, but in the end we UTTERLY rely on our environment for everything.  Treat the environment badly, and we're all gonners.....

Mike

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Damnthematrix wrote: I truly

Damnthematrix wrote:

I truly hate doing this to a first poster, but this is a load of nonsense....  I was a member of the Green Party for many years, stood in seven elections in Australia, and I can tell you there is no such agenda whatsoever.

All the environmentalists I know fervently believe in relocalisation and the end of globalisation.

in any case, there won't be any surplus energy to run a world government soon, it's all in your head.....

Mike.

Thanks for sharing your experience with some of the green politicians of Australia.

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Randers claim about resource availability is ridiculous

I have to say that when I saw that the podcast was going to be an interview of Jorgen Randers I was super excited to hear it.  I was extremely interested to hear what he would have to say about what the future will likely look like over the next 40 or 50 years since his work seems to be based on analyzing actual data and computer modeling.  I have to say though that I was totally shocked and surprised by what Randers claimed about how the future will likely look in 2050. 

In the podcast he says "I think that the reason why the United States is not going to be on a per capita basis richer in 2050 than it is today has nothing to do with the resource unavailability. I think that are enough resources available to handle the U.S. need to 2050 particularly since the U.S. need is not going to increase very much over the next forty years." 

When I heard this I thought to myself this person can't possibly be looking at any data at all.  Either that is the case or else he is afraid that a negative image will make people less interested in his message or his new book. 

Has this person not heard that the world population is increasing, that we are on our way from 7 billion humans to 9 billion?  What about resource depletion such as oil, coal, natural gas, minerals such as copper,  galium, lithium etc?  What about the fact that the economies of India, China and the rest of the developing world continue to grow rapidly and thus use more and more of these resources?  In fact Chris Martenson mentions this just before Randers claims that there are enough resources available to handle US need to 2050.

For Rander's to make this statement is just plain shocking and irresponsible.

I hear this same sort of theme in many other talks, blogs, podcasts etc.   The theme seems to always be that in the abstract large scale sense the world is facing issues such as peak oil, resource scarcity and the like and that our future will change dramatically but then these same sources will try to  turn around and claim that on an individual basis nothing really has to change.  That somehow we can all go on driving our cars, expanding our consumption, and generally living the same way that we always have with maybe a little more recycling and taking the bus once in a while instead of driving the car.  They somehow claim that we can solve all of these issues by putting up some windmills and solar panels and that this will power a fleet of electric cars for us to all drive. 

There is a major disconnect between what is presented on a macro or grand level vs what is presented on an individual or micro level. 
 

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Damnthematrix wrote: "Soil

Damnthematrix wrote:

"Soil erosion, reduction of farmland quality, water quality and shortage issues" are EXACTLY what Climate Change will cause.  Or worsen.

Non-environmental issues will hit us first, and may well be lethal to some unprepared people, but in the end we UTTERLY rely on our environment for everything.  Treat the environment badly, and we're all gonners.....

I perhaps should have been more specific.  I am skeptic when it comes to anthropogenic global warming.  If I'm ever convinced that anthropogenic climate change is a reality, I'll consider it's impact on other issues.

In the mean time, anthropogenic direct soil erosion and water quality degradation are happening as we speak.  Large numbers of people exist in parts of the US that can't exist without importing tremendous quantities of water.  No computer model is required to determine this and it's difficult to debate.  You can see it for yourself every day.

Despite my skepticism regarding anthropogenic global warming, I have changed my life style completely, but for different reasons.  I have cut my C02 emissions in half simply because I very much believe in peak oil and peak energy.  My lowest mileage vehicle gets 30 mpg.  All my recreational vehicles are human powered.  But. I am doing it to reduce energy consumption.  I live a life style you would not be offended by but with different motivations.

I do however, believe that non-environmental issues may cause more destruction than your statement implies.  It is possible that over 7 billion people competing for Earth's dwindling resources could spark a disagreement or two.
 

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we agree really....

LesPhelps wrote:

I do however, believe that non-environmental issues may cause more destruction than your statement implies.  It is possible that over 7 billion people competing for Earth's dwindling resources could spark a disagreement or two.

Les, I've always thought of overpopulation as an environmental issue.  Beause humans are part of the environment.  Just like locusts!

AGW?  It's just part of the perfect storm.

Mike

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BAD BAD ADVICE!

SingleSpeak,

You are dead on.  Powerful central governemnts compelling population scale activity and competing for increasingly scarce resources = global war on unprecedented scale....

Pray for increasing scarcity causing decentralization of central governments!

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lack of decision making

My take from listening to Mr. Randers was not that he was saying we have unlimited resources but more that the most limiting factor is our ability or lack thereof to make decisions in our best long term interests.   We may have lots of resources if we're willing to evolve in how, what, and how much we use.  But our societal and governmental structure won't let us change until we feel enough pain from limited resources in the way we currently use them.  Societies that can plan or evolve to adapt to limited resources, or individuals in absolute power of their own households, will outcompete those that don't make good decisions.  It would be great if Mr. RAnders could clarify.

mobius's picture
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...and long term accountability

I'd like to build upon what Woodman stated.  The problem of limited resource management is that there is no long-term accountability for past decisions that went bad.  It is the tragedy of the commons:  there is no economic reward to conserve because the "reward" cannot be immeidately consummed in this generation. 

And it is at this point I will take a side-step.  In Samuel Huntington's view "traditional societies" (in other words a non-complex society) have an accountability system:  the village elder whose age and wisdom guided the village  community.  If s/he (mostly he) were wrong then the entire community would suffer, but there would be a collective memory of what not to do if such an instance would repeat itself.

I think complexity lends itself to consolidated power. 

In our contemporary democracies, there is no long term accountability.  And in our society where media pressures are idealising a youthful adult (approximately 25 years old), I feel that a political structure has evolved to give us the illusion freedom of choice while, and as parents with children do, limit the choices to those that are convinent for the one offering choice.

Then my question:  is a small-scale collectivist approach more efficient to manage limited resources? 

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Mobius: what you pointed out

Mobius: what you pointed out is one of the core problems Hoppe described in his book "Democracy: The God That Failed". It's a bit dry, but it's a great read on the incentive problems inherent in democracy and centralization.

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In a word, No

mobius wrote:

Then my question:  is a small-scale collectivist approach more efficient to manage limited resources? 

Perhaps in theory, but history has demonstrated repeatedly there will always be a larger collective that seeks to impose its will on smaller collectives because the larger determined that doing so would be more efficient.......for itself.

And the cycle repeats - whether you subscribe to linear cyclical time, linear time or chaotic time models for observing the ebb and flow of societal (d)evolution.

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I'll check Hoppe out!

Thanks for the tip Squarooticus.  I'll be sure to check that out. Just an aside, Mrs. Ryan my high school math teacher always called 'em "Squroots" instead of square roots.  Had to laugh when I saw your handle.  Parabola also fell in the tomato / tomáto catagory -- paraBOla as in Ebola or parabulah.

Cheers! Jo

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Drop in Yields on US Treasuries accelerating?

A little off  topic, but it sure looks like the drop in US treasury yields is accelerating this morning.  A direct effect of European chaos or is more involved?

http://www.bloomberg.com/markets/rates-bonds/government-bonds/us/

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I'm not sure global bureaucracy is the answer.

Interesting interview, but I was disturbed by Mr Randers calling for increased government authority to "solve" environmental problems, and pointing to China as an example. I have noticed that ardent environmentalists often discount, or dont even consider, the value of individual liberty and freedom and place too much faith in the benevolence of large bureaucracy. It is a very materialist frame of mind with little concern for the spirit.

If given a choice, many people would sacrifice some comfort and safety to remain free. The optimal balance between individual liberty and collective problem solving is a question that I think often about.

 
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The Proper Role Of Government

Mr. Randers was sure to provoke an interesting discussion in his calls for government responses as the key to our various predicaments.

I am somewhat agnostic.  I know some individuals that I trust less than certain governments and certain governments I trust far less than any individual.  Governments are just collections of people.  So are corporations, scout troops, churches and little league teams.  Some function at very high levels, others are disfunctional.  It all depends.

His point, to whihc I am sympathetic, seemed to be that there are certain looming conditions which are well beyond the power of the individual to address and that this leaves a coordinated response, one that is rooted in what is best vs. what is most profitable, as the most likely to succeed given the constraints and timeline of this particular story we are all in.

I happen to think that a national energy policy is desperately needed and, no, I don't think that the 'free market' is up to the task.  Left to its own devices the free market will do what it does best and that is to maximize profits which translates into deplete our resources as rapidly as possible.  

Take natural gas.  Already there are four permits in the hopper seeking to build LNG export terminals because, as the story goes, we are awash in gas.  Best to ship it off to Asia where a much better price awaits than to let it sit in the ground for our eventual domestic use.  This makes perfect money sense but not a lick of energy sense.

For starters 25% of the embodied energy in a cubic foot of natural gas is spent to drive the liquification process so that is 25% of its embodied 'work' that is used to cool it down right off the top.  That energy is gone, never to be used for anything else.  

Next, all of the hard data analyses all suggest that the shale gas story has been rather badly hyped and that we have a lot less of it than has been tossed about lately.    Perhaps only 50% as much if you are taken by Berman and Pittinger's 2011 study.    There we find the age-old story that free enterprise is rewarded for overstating their assets is a definite possibility and it might be nice to have a solid, funded, neutral set of eyes all over that data because so many critical decisions rest on its accuracy.

Where the free market would seek to exploit the natgas resource as fast as possible and play fast and loose with the base data, I would strongly prefer a 30 year mster plan for where our country wishes to be with respect to energy mix and infrastructure and how much natgas we need domestically to acheive that vision.

Instead, my prediction is that at some point in the not too distant future we will find ourselves disappointed by both the price and availability of natgas as well as our failure to use it to build something durable and useful.

So this is an area where I simply cannot see private industry leading the way because the debt-based dollar system does not reward or encourage such behavior on the part of individuals or corporations.  We need a benevolent national response of some sort.  

Now...just how likely that is to be realized...that's another matter.

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ao
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Posts: 2220
herein lies the problem

cmartenson wrote:

Where the free market would seek to exploit the natgas resource as fast as possible and play fast and loose with the base data, I would strongly prefer a 30 year mster plan for where our country wishes to be with respect to energy mix and infrastructure and how much natgas we need domestically to acheive that vision.

Herein lies the problem  We are bereft of both leadership and the planning provided by such leadership.  The Chinese have 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 year plans.  The US reacts to yesterday. 

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rhare
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More honesty --- less smart people please!

Woodman wrote:

My take from listening to Mr. Randers was not that he was saying we have unlimited resources but more that the most limiting factor is our ability or lack thereof to make decisions in our best long term interests.   We may have lots of resources if we're willing to evolve in how, what, and how much we use.  But our societal and governmental structure won't let us change until we feel enough pain from limited resources in the way we currently use them.

I don't think it's so much that our governmental structure stops us from making proper decisions, rather our governmental structure distorts the reality of our resource constrained world.

Chris Martenson wrote:

I happen to think that a national energy policy is desperately needed and, no, I don't think that the 'free market' is up to the task.  Left to its own devices the free market will do what it does best and that is to maximize profits which translates into deplete our resources as rapidly as possible.  

Take natural gas.  Already there are four permits in the hopper seeking to build LNG export terminals because, as the story goes, we are awash in gas.  Best to ship it off to Asia where a much better price awaits than to let it sit in the ground for our eventual domestic use.  This makes perfect money sense but not a lick of energy sense.

I think this is a perfect example of the distortions caused by government at work, primarily via the manipulation of the currency.  Perhaps it's not the "free market" acting in this case.  Could it be cheap money available that is distorting the true cost of this behavior?  Could it be the continual lies from our government about the 200 years of natural gas available?  How about the subsidies supporting drilling, oil use, etc?

Chris wrote:

So this is an area where I simply cannot see private industry leading the way because the debt-based dollar system does not reward or encourage such behavior on the part of individuals or corporations.  We need a benevolent national response of some sort. 

Chris how is this not a deflection from the real problem?  You say "because the debt-based dollar system does not reward or encourage such behavior" but then instead of saying, let's solve that problem you advocate giving more power to those that have caused the problem??? I don't understand how you can actually think that any "benevolent national response" is remotely possible?

While Mr. Randers thinks more controlling government is the way to solve the problem, I would say why could you possibly think that given the way government has handled it so far?  Government has encouraged massive consumption over savings via low interest loans, pension promises (why save when the government will take care of you)...

Government causes all kinds of distortions, just look at the building of the Interstate highway system.  Some people point out how would smaller governments and individuals build that?  The answer is they probably wouldn't and we would have much less sprawl.  How about all the government water projects to deliver water to the deserts?  How many people would be living in unsustainable areas without government spending billions to distort reality?

I firmly believe the only solution is much smaller and localized government.  Only when we have a sound method to measure of the value of resources and can see the true limited nature of them will we begin to make changes.

So Chis, I have to disagree, the longer we have large centralized government making plans, the farther we overshoot until forced to change. I'm not sure how you can advocate community, self-reliance, etc and then say we need a national energy policy?  The only way a large central government will solve the problem will be through the reduction of population, and yes, governments have proven they are quite good at that!

There is the arrogance in progressive thought that they "know better".  It's that progressive way of thinking that has led us to the world we live in now with a out of control monetary system, economies on the brink of disaster, and humanitarian crisis due to the propagation of the view that governments will take care of us because the "smart" people are making the decisions. 

I have much more faith that people when given the right information, have a proper perspective on the value of resources, and understand they must be responsible for their actions, will make the right choices on a large distributed basis.  Chris, I think the work you and others have done to point out the situation is far more important than anything a large government can accomplish.  What we need is honesty from leaders about the situation so everyone can make better decisions - not just the smart people!

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patrickhenry
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rhare - excellent post. When

rhare - excellent post.

When one begins examining the "unintended consequences" of government intervention in the free market (although we haven't had a truly free market in at least 100 years), one usually begins to advocate for less government.

Besides the list of great examples you gave of negative effects of bigger government, possibly the most invasive and most damaging are crony capitalism, corporate welfare, and corporatocracy.

History tells us that the larger goverment becomes, the more power over our lives corporations have.

Corporations are now writing the laws to maximize their profits, fleece the taxpayers and main street, and set up regulatory hurdles to put the mom and pop businesses out of business.

I'm especially surprised and disappointed Dr. Martenson has officially advocated a central government approach to U.S. energy policy.

As he is no doubt aware, the U.S. has already tried and failed in this in creating the Department of Energy in '77 with the mission of reducing dependence on foreign oil.  The DOE now has a $26B budget with the result of a *greater* dependence on foreign oil now than in '77.

On the plus side, the lobbyists, bureacrats, and corporations are doing quite well with that $26B a year, helping to acheive D.C.'s personal income rise, the greatest of any region in the U.S.

Throughout history, the negative unintended consequences of government intervention in free enterprise have outweighed any "improvement by government" :) , in any industry, including energy.

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Arundhati;What an honor to

Arundhati;

What an honor to have such a distinguished author as yourself join our ranks! You brought me out from trolling the last few years to chime in. When I first found Chris's site like 4 or 5 years ago, I got lots of gold, food stock, a gun, 2 bee hives, some chickens etc. Since then obviously the world has held together.  My plan B has not been deployed yet, but I do love the bees and chickens, and I made some good money on gold! 

This slow collapse may go on for the rest of our lifetimes, who can say? We are but cells in Kahil Gibrans Super Organism (SO), thinking the 'brain' aka Government is in control when in fact there is no one home. Current neuroscience shows 'free will' is largely an illusion, collectively the SO may have more degrees of freedom, but the price we 'cells' in the SO pay for the 'degrees of FREEDOM' is the exact opposite - complete and utter bondage. Scratch an itch and 50,000 individual cells slough off your skin. Apoptosis is ready to kill any rebel cell. In a holographic universe these systems from our body to our global society are strikingly similar.

Embracing the paradox always seems the best route, so here perhaps, slavery is freedom. Cells are slaves to the SO, but collectively they all get not only better survival odds, but the SO has more degrees of freedom!

So I can see why modern medicine and food production, both rather unhealthy to say the least, are here. Because they work best - its quality or quantity. And in this Malthusian world, quantity is what genes measure success by. So we have 'Over 50 Billion Served' by Soylent Green because it works! (Not for me mind you, being a raw, grass fed beef, paleo, organic fan myself!)

Everything is happening exactly as it should, and if you and Chris save(change) the world, thats because that was exactly whats supposed to happen! I for one hope you do. Its all predetermined, yet this rule is subject to change! 

I for one have found the discovery that "I am in this world, not of it..." for real, as the most life changing experience ever. Now I know there is nothing to worry about in this matrix.

Like the Marine doing 6 tours without ever a clue to reality, or the tourists, I too live in a surreal world here in the US, sheltered from the thousands of Indian farmers committing suicide over Monanto sponsored eco-terrorism, amongst other tragic realities the world over. The list goes on and on. But one could argue, the tourist, the Marine - that IS their reality. Until it changes. 

Collapse, or breakdown - is also a breakthrough and I for one will try to enjoy surfing the Zeitgeist as we Paradigm Shift! As EO WIlson says "Progress happens funeral by funeral" - kids born into a collapsed society will, I think, assume this is the norm, and the typical human spirit kicks in and life goes on....

I love your writings by the way! Keep up the good work! 

Arundhati Roy wrote:

To quote Antonio Gramsci:

"We can see that in putting the question "what is man?" what we mean is: what can man become? That is, can man dominate his own destiny; can he "make himself," can he create his own life? We maintain, therefore, that man is a process and, more exactly, the process of his actions.

If you think about it, the question itself "what is man?" is not an abstract or "objective" question. It is born of our reflection about ourselves and about others, and we want to know, in relation to what we have thought and seen, what we are and what we can become; whether we really are, and if so, to what extent, "makers of our own selves," of our life, and of our destiny. And we want to know this "today," in the given conditions of today, the conditions of our daily life, not of any life or any man."

I find its more profitable if society is steered away from looking down at the abyss. Presently, most of us work; drive our cars, eat our "three-thousand mile caesar salad" in our cosy suburban concrete cul-de-sac'.

We think it's a choice through 'free will'.

Telling us otherwise hasn't worked so far in the 40 years since Limits To Growth, even if there have been a few benchmarks since.

If we don't know now, we will do, but not in the way we envision, since we aren't equipped with the experience, coddled in a life of unparalleled expansion and unlimited resource - why should we change our ways?

And media isn't going to help. That's been done, with the odd leak of reality before the 'free press' closes ranks. Its back to business as usual - "shop-shop-shop" -  keep the economy from crashing.

Out in the sunshine today I counted seventeen women at a different stage of pregnancy in a world adding 90+ million new mouths to feed each year on dwindling resource - I'm sure none of them feel any real pain to change yet -

Are they paying attention?

Where I live it's tourist thick seven months, filled with families who saved fifty weeks of the year to get two weeks to blow it all and start all over again -

Are they paying attention?

I've a neighbor who's been to Afghanistan six times as a foot soldier since 2005. In seven years he's never thought to question why, reading one unrelated book in his entire life. He has a daughter under four and a wife who "does nails" -

Are they paying attention?

See, that's what they want to do. They'll never know the full story, and there's so much comfort they take in that. People are brainwashed by fiction. They think they know stuff, when really, all the fictional stuff they do know is an immunization against reality. It makes them know things they don't know. Enables them to have a kind of superficial quasi sophistication and cynicism - which is just a thin layer beyond which they're not really cynical at all.

I just went to Chris's You Tube site and note all his video have recieved more than five million views. Its not bad for four years work, here's a hat tip for trying.

Lets hope there comes a time soon when he gets an audience that big in one evening - an evening when 17 babies deliver before term, seven months worth of tourists stay home and make a "no dig" permaculture fresh veggie patch, my neighbor starts quoting chomsky and his wife thinks one single solitary critical thought

Yeah, and pigs might fly

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Arthur Robey
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Confirmational bias.

I worry about confirmational bias. Reality has a habit of not being linear.  Black and white swans everywhere.

Our models are made by a self-referential Left brain which is incapable of considering issues that are not in it's model.

Ideally we should not post anything that does not have anything new to say.

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russiaways
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Posts: 14
only problem is...

This discussion exemplifies the human condition with regard to the failed concept of the need for big government.  It was exemplified most succinctly by a neighbor when I was living in a small town in central Russia several years ago.  Many times over tea or vodka he would overrule my protestations about the gathering power of Putin, saying in his simple English "Russia is a big country, it needs....must have STRONG leader, only problem is....we get bad leaders!"

As Chris said: " Governments are just collections of people.  So are corporations, scout troops, churches and little league teams.  Some function at very high levels, others are disfunctional.  It all depends."

My sentiments, exactly, but what that implies to me is that we can accomplish the same productive organization in different ways, that don't require theft and force.  That to be most effective and responsive these organizations usually should be smaller and more local is the knowledge ignored. And most importantly the attempts to be effective, responsive, productive, ect. must be allowed to fail if they are not!  Just as banks can achieve efficiencies of scale by growing ,we have seen that other costs of that distance from their origin can be high as well and, from my perspective, it is the leverage of individual decision making that provides the most systemic vulnerability but the power of size (usually in cahoots with government) often prevents appropriate and more timely failure.  

If banks or other organizations are too big to fail, dangerous to the wider society because of the potential damage from bad decisions, how much greater is the danger from the way bigger organization, the government, whose most magnified use of leveraged power is ultimately portrayed in the symbolic red button of nuclear destruction available to one single individual.

No thanks.  I'll take my chances in the trenches of a messy ecological stew of competing individuals and organizations seeking their successful niche.  I believe in much of the 3Es foundational assumptions of this site and should this organization incorporate, buy up natgas sites to sit on for later use or deploy for investing in future alternatives I'd love to buy shares!

In the menatime I hold that the power and influence of governmental organizations should be inversely proportional to their size and scope, just the opposite of present day tendencies.

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Poet
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Posts: 1840
Balance...

Does the "free market" really work? Let's look at the world's ocean's and major predator fish populations. Seems there's a Tragedy of the Commons, isn't it?

Now, should we just auction off sections f the world's oceans like we would sections of land? Not sure if that would really work, would it? One common industry pattern is consolidation until a cartel or oligopoly emerges. The other pattern is fish migrating between different areas of the world's oceans, thus removing incentives for responsible management for the long-term. Unless of course someone wants to wrap a net around all of their territory, to prevent anyone else from ever getting any fish.

I hear in Texas the water rights are based on "right to capture". It doesn't matter if someone else was farming downstream near a river that used to flow. Oh, what's it called? The Rio Grande? I guess that's when the property owner downstream might decide to start walking up the dry riverbed with a loaded gun, only held back by the fact that the property owner upstream can call in the sheriff to protect his property rights. Right?

Here's an interesting thought. A lot of free market advocates insist we just need government to protect people from being killed, and to enforce property laws and contracts. Nothing else.

Well, if we don't need to regulate products because people will just naturally avoid companies that produce bad products that make them sick or kill them... Then why bother enforcing contracts at all? If people will naturally avoid making contracts with those who don't have a good history of honoring contracts...

So regulation or "free" market, it really is a matter of degree, isn't it? Some people want only for the law to protect their property. Others want the law to protect sellers from putting out produce laden with pesticides. Yet others want the law to allow them to sell produce laden with pesticides AND without warning labels - that's called corporations controlling government.

There are good reasons where people argue for government regulations, and there are good reasons where people argue for free markets. Both can solve problems just as both can cause problems and end in disaster. The trick is to find the right balance.

I think in some cases, more regulation (of the right kind) would be good. In some cases, less (of the right kind) would be better. I tend to agree with Dr. Martenson on his agnostic view.

Poet

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patrickhenry
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Free Market Solutions to Fisheries

Poet -

You'll be amazed to find out free market, capitalist solutions to over-fishing are what is saving the world's fisheries now, one by one.

The tragedy of the commons that had existed was the result of no single fisherman having private property rights to a fishery, and thus led to fishing as many fish as possible, wherever they were, leading to bigger and bigger ships, reckless multispecies netting practices, etc.  There was no incentive to preserve a fishery for the long term.

Now, across the world, private property based catch shares are being used by fishermen.   These market based, trasferrable shares give the fishermen incentives to preserve a fishery for the long term.  Fish populations are being stabilized and increased, and fishermen have returned to stable year around fishing, continually bringing fresh fish to market, with higher prices for local fishermen.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Individual_fishing_quota

Pollution is still, by far, the largest threat to the world's fisheries. 

As we know, water and air pollution has been *legalized* by the federal government/EPA.  Citizens, in most cases, are not allowed to sue large corporations over having their private property polluted by those companies.  Indeed, our government, with the American courts, have made the deliberate decision to allow property rights to be violated by industrial pollution.

Today like the FDA, the EPA is the victim of the revolving door with Monsanto, etc.  And so, this bigger federal government has laws written for them by big corporations.

When free market forces of defined personal property, and the ability of individuals for who's rights have been infringed to file lawsuits, are applied, corporations can be sued by private parties, without an intervening (protective) 3rd party, and behavior changing financial penalties are inflicted on the polluting party.

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russiaways
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Poet

I agree with much of your sentiments but urge you to question your assumptions.  Typically when we want to fix these types of wrongs we think there ought-a-be a law/regulation/oversight board etc. It is that these imply the full force and monolithic structure of government that provides the unintended consequences, gaming the system, cure is worse than the disease, how do we get rid of this overbearing bureaucracy types of outcomes.  I encourage our culture to evolve past that need, to deconstruct large government structures (let Quebec leave Canada but only if it lets parts stay or leave it) but build cooperative organizations for oversight (multi county homeless help centers, consumer reports type transparency for working conditions/pay rather than OSHA).  There would be many ongoing challenges developing workable organizational solutions but they coould stay at more local and relevant scales and have shorter lifespans allowing for faster turnover and improvement.

By sticking to big government solutions we condemn ourselves to serving the beast as it inevitably grows (demanding our income to fund it), needs more and more power to be "effective" (spending/GDP, military interventions, spy on citizens to protect them, etc), and comes eventually to its end very badly in war, systemic collapse, or revolution.  I would prefer small, ongoing versions of this natural process where smaller, more local, organizations fail piecemeal over time like the ecological process of a complex rainforest, the bacterial population in a gut or a scoop of soil in your backyard.

What if, by whatever system of tax allocation we have, 1% of the bill was voluntary and could be withdrawn (or not) from a specific part of the budget (military, post office, a certain subsidy, etc.), and it was increased by 1% every year for 100 yrs!  Which parts would wither and die first and be replaced effectively in the private sector (fedex/UPS) and which would live on, supported by contributions and kept in check by continueing alternative suggestions.  I'd love to see it play out.

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Joc Forsyth
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The wisdom of government

Hi Thc0655

You are right. From time to time nations or peoples have looked to authoritarian governments (or unelected bureacrats or technocrats) to lead them to utopia. The results have all been disastrous in the medium term. In fact, such a trend to authoritarian regimes might, by leading to war, be the final nail in the coffin of humanity. The out look is pretty grim if the choice is muddling to disaster or being ordered to catastrophe.

Our only hope is that the ordinary person inthe street will rapidly evolve to reject being persistently misled. Given that rationality is unpalatable it is very difficult to accept but many ordinary people are, surely deeply concerned but lack disinterested leadership - which is difficult in a democracy and, in time, impossible in a dictatorship.

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Arundhati Roy
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Posts: 5
Are 'they' paying attention?

Paranoid wrote:
Arundhati Roy wrote:

To quote Antonio Gramsci:

"We can see that in putting the question "what is man?" what we mean is: what can man become? That is, can man dominate his own destiny; can he "make himself," can he create his own life? We maintain, therefore, that man is a process and, more exactly, the process of his actions.

If you think about it, the question itself "what is man?" is not an abstract or "objective" question. It is born of our reflection about ourselves and about others, and we want to know, in relation to what we have thought and seen, what we are and what we can become; whether we really are, and if so, to what extent, "makers of our own selves," of our life, and of our destiny. And we want to know this "today," in the given conditions of today, the conditions of our daily life, not of any life or any man."

I find its more profitable if society is steered away from looking down at the abyss. Presently, most of us work; drive our cars, eat our "three-thousand mile caesar salad" in our cosy suburban concrete cul-de-sac'.

We think it's a choice through 'free will'.

Telling us otherwise hasn't worked so far in the 40 years since Limits To Growth, even if there have been a few benchmarks since.

If we don't know now, we will do, but not in the way we envision, since we aren't equipped with the experience, coddled in a life of unparalleled expansion and unlimited resource - why should we change our ways?

And media isn't going to help. That's been done, with the odd leak of reality before the 'free press' closes ranks. Its back to business as usual - "shop-shop-shop" -  keep the economy from crashing.

Out in the sunshine today I counted seventeen women at a different stage of pregnancy in a world adding 90+ million new mouths to feed each year on dwindling resource - I'm sure none of them feel any real pain to change yet -

Are they paying attention?

Where I live it's tourist thick seven months, filled with families who saved fifty weeks of the year to get two weeks to blow it all and start all over again -

Are they paying attention?

I've a neighbor who's been to Afghanistan six times as a foot soldier since 2005. In seven years he's never thought to question why, reading one unrelated book in his entire life. He has a daughter under four and a wife who "does nails" -

Are they paying attention?

See, that's what they want to do. They'll never know the full story, and there's so much comfort they take in that. People are brainwashed by fiction. They think they know stuff, when really, all the fictional stuff they do know is an immunization against reality. It makes them know things they don't know. Enables them to have a kind of superficial quasi sophistication and cynicism - which is just a thin layer beyond which they're not really cynical at all.

I just went to Chris's You Tube site and note all his video have recieved more than five million views. Its not bad for four years work, here's a hat tip for trying.

Lets hope there comes a time soon when he gets an audience that big in one evening - an evening when 17 babies deliver before term, seven months worth of tourists stay home and make a "no dig" permaculture fresh veggie patch, my neighbor starts quoting chomsky and his wife thinks one single solitary critical thought

Yeah, and pigs might fly

Arundhati;

What an honor to have such a distinguished author as yourself join our ranks! You brought me out from trolling the last few years to chime in. When I first found Chris's site like 4 or 5 years ago, I got lots of gold, food stock, a gun, 2 bee hives, some chickens etc. Since then obviously the world has held together.  My plan B has not been deployed yet, but I do love the bees and chickens, and I made some good money on gold! 

This slow collapse may go on for the rest of our lifetimes, who can say? We are but cells in Kahil Gibrans Super Organism (SO), thinking the 'brain' aka Government is in control when in fact there is no one home. Current neuroscience shows 'free will' is largely an illusion, collectively the SO may have more degrees of freedom, but the price we 'cells' in the SO pay for the 'degrees of FREEDOM' is the exact opposite - complete and utter bondage. Scratch an itch and 50,000 individual cells slough off your skin. Apoptosis is ready to kill any rebel cell. In a holographic universe these systems from our body to our global society are strikingly similar.

Embracing the paradox always seems the best route, so here perhaps, slavery is freedom. Cells are slaves to the SO, but collectively they all get not only better survival odds, but the SO has more degrees of freedom!

So I can see why modern medicine and food production, both rather unhealthy to say the least, are here. Because they work best - its quality or quantity. And in this Malthusian world, quantity is what genes measure success by. So we have 'Over 50 Billion Served' by Soylent Green because it works! (Not for me mind you, being a raw, grass fed beef, paleo, organic fan myself!)

Everything is happening exactly as it should, and if you and Chris save(change) the world, thats because that was exactly whats supposed to happen! I for one hope you do. Its all predetermined, yet this rule is subject to change! 

I for one have found the discovery that "I am in this world, not of it..." for real, as the most life changing experience ever. Now I know there is nothing to worry about in this matrix.

Like the Marine doing 6 tours without ever a clue to reality, or the tourists, I too live in a surreal world here in the US, sheltered from the thousands of Indian farmers committing suicide over Monanto sponsored eco-terrorism, amongst other tragic realities the world over. The list goes on and on. But one could argue, the tourist, the Marine - that IS their reality. Until it changes. 

Collapse, or breakdown - is also a breakthrough and I for one will try to enjoy surfing the Zeitgeist as we Paradigm Shift! As EO WIlson says "Progress happens funeral by funeral" - kids born into a collapsed society will, I think, assume this is the norm, and the typical human spirit kicks in and life goes on....

I love your writings by the way! Keep up the good work!

Hello Paranoid,

Jorgen Randers is a joy. If only he gains the public distinction he deserved forty years ago.

But it was one of the other authors of Limits to Growth I relate most. Dennis L. Meadows began his public speaking from a naïve belief that simple truths - the viceral nature of our world - would be enough to trade our present trajectory for a clearer one with better tools to the task.

It is a pity that those tools have been picked over cleanly - turned inside-out through motive driven profiteers financing 'credible' institutions - spun into a yarn, veneered, sweetened with saccharin, and fed to a public without suspecting they now have a taste for cannibalism.

When the world view of India is colored as though Gross National Product is a means to secure a proof against poverty - where 98% earn little more than 20 rupees a day - against the global industry of finance that secures poverty in perpetuity over resource rich nations as a proven motive of loan payments spiralling interest bearing debt without end. There again, where the media wheels churn out a flip-side of reality - removing the motivation of millions to act against the perpetuity of a lie - you and I have to ask ourselves regularly, "what is my purpose?" for fear we'll simply forget for the barrage of proflicate sabotage of our senses.

No, I am not Arundhati Roy. I sense I am made of a stuff that has been hollowed out more easily than she, but even in the attempt, I honor her for the depth of her courage, and for that, I carry her name.

To those reading this who have never heard of her, here's an interview with the highly respected journalist Jeremy Paxman from last year

sportivny's picture
sportivny
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 17 2011
Posts: 7
Totally agree with you

Maybe works fine in Norway, I don't know what gave Mr.Randers impression that [big] governments are benevolent and progressive... History seems to indicate just the opposite.

sportivny's picture
sportivny
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Joined: Jan 17 2011
Posts: 7
Benevolent government

We can only hope, I guess

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