From our Neolithic Past to our Radioactive Present — and future? — gold, swords, and tumulus grave goods of hoards of icons of materialistic wealth have been our chosen markers of human achievement; in all a genuflection to the triumph of materialism over intellect and spirit.
Socialism is the economic ideology of abundant prosperity, democracy is its political ideology, and peace is its mythology.
Prosperity is the warmth of good living generated by the consumption of natural resources into the entropy of waste products. The expansion of prosperity is fueled by the diminishment of Nature and the increase of enslavement by the expansion of imperialism vacuuming in new resources to the homeland from ever farther afield. The military, like a wildfire, is an expanding ring of consumption whose center is a widening desert of entropy: resource scarcity and waste with a smattering of capstones of wealth atop pyramids of power. War is the collision of expanding rings of militarism; conquest is the collapse of one against the pressure of another.
A diminishing access to prosperity leads to a narrowing and heightening of political power, and a popular sharpening of competition for resources with a consequent hardening of attitudes of overt racism, and an increasing fragmentation of society into a steepening hierarchy of classes based on submission to and patronage by superiors, until society ultimately degenerates into a dictatorial kingship over a realm of desperation. Fascism is the populist submission in industrialized societies to rising kingships over realms of expanding scarcity.
Sustainability within the Natural World is the conception of frugality as freedom and not poverty. Sustainability is the submergence of human identity into Nature, and seen as a release and not a collapse, instead of being an ever heightening emergence above it. Sustainability is the conceptualization of civilization as organic within the Natural World, instead of a construction caging it. Sustainability is seeing human empowerment as coming from submission to Life, instead of from defiance of it, and of seeing Life as anarchic instead of hierarchical.
God reigns if all are dead. God is dead if all are alive, if all are each infinitesimal glints from the underlying sea of godliness that is Life.
I looked up into the day, shielding my eyes against the brilliance of the sun infusing warmth into my skin, to see low wispy white clouds streaming across the top of my wooded canyon while slowly roiling within themselves, as invisible cascades of crystalline air surged with turbulent reverberations over the hilltops and down into the canyon, splashing into near-chill breezes soughing through the forest green ringing with birdsong scintillating the leaves and rippling their dappled network of reflected sunlight, to brush against me as I stood immersed in wonder once again under the soaring of a black hawk, amazed to be experiencing this immensity of Life, this great outside beyond human limitations. I am a brief instance of all this, and that realization is my share of the eternal.
Watch the video presentation “Earth and Humanity: Myth and Reality,” (2:52:15) by Nate Hagens, linked below. Hagens presents an analysis and grand synthesis of the multi-entwined crises of unsustainable human society living in the rapidly degrading world climate of an increasingly resource-depleted and increasingly inhospitable Planet Earth.
I guarantee that you will find many of your own views on this topic reaffirmed by Hagens, and also that he will challenge at least one of your cherished beliefs about it. This is good for serious people, it prompts them to think anew, and to rethink their assumptions.
What impresses me about Hagens’ analysis is that it is based on a wealth of data — the lifeblood of any real scientific or economic analysis — and that it is a multidimensional systems analysis, and not merely a “one note Johnny” narrow expertise (just finance, or just physics), single “smoking gun” caused problem (as the “overpopulation” reductionists claim) or a promotion of a single route to salvation solution (as the “nuclear power” reductionists claim). Hagens’s is an integrated description of the dysfunctional global system, which Nature plus Humanity has become, rather than merely being an uncoordinated list of a myriad of disconnected disasters, pathologies, ruins and wrecks.
Hagens does make specific recommendations near the end of his video, aimed at getting us (particularly in the U.S.A.) to begin dealing with our ongoing global systems failure in a substantive manner. After that he adds a few seconds of wordless video that will delight all lovers of wildlife.
Any abstraction of Hagens’ presentation to a single phrase would wash away all its insights and nuance, and would be unjust to the cause of transmitting understanding to the public. But, if you want an indicative soundbite, here is my maximally reductionist summary: humanity needs to scale back its use of energy very very significantly, and permanently, and now — an energy diet — just like a forever-maintained eat-less food-calorie diet needed to break an individual free from obesity.
Hagens’ video will make any serious person think (and we all better get serious), and that is the first essential step for us ever having a chance to get out of the mess we’re in.
Nate Hagens has a Masters Degree in Finance from the University of Chicago and a PhD in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont. He is a former editor of The Oil Drum and worked on Wall Street for a decade before “seeing the light.” Since 2003 Nate has shifted his focus to understanding the interrelationships between energy, environment, and finance and the implication this synthesis has for human futures. Previously, Nate was President of Sanctuary Asset Management and a Vice President at the investment firms Salomon Brothers and Lehman Brothers. Currently, he teaches a systems synthesis Honors seminar at the University of Minnesota ‘Reality 101 – A Survey of the Human Predicament.’
Nate focuses on the interrelationship between debt-based financial markets and natural resources, particularly energy, and the unplanned for risks from the coming ‘Great Simplification.’ He also addresses the evolutionarily-derived underpinnings to status, addiction, and our aversion to acting about the future and offers suggestions on how individuals and society might better adapt to the coming decades.
Jeff Gibbs 2019 video “Planet of the Humans,” released publicly on Earth Day 2020, was the most important presentation on the realities of our global “climate change” crisis to be made available in many years (https://planetofthehumans.com/). Nate Hagens’ new video “Earth and Humanity: Myths and Reality” is of much grander scope and at least of equal importance. See it and don’t get defensive, then refine your own stance from your points of disagreement with Hagens, and/or improve his systemic analysis, which is the type of thing needed to converge politically on what in all honesty would have to be called a World Plan for guiding human civilization through a transition — the Great Simplification — to a post carbon future, without suffering a catastrophic and life-ending collapse.
As a 20th century mechanical engineer who focused himself on the 19th century science of thermodynamics (and got away with a career in experimental nuclear explosions), I’ve said all what little I was competent to say about the physics and economics of “climate change.” So at this point all I can offer on the topic is bad poetry, and I’ll spare you that. But I can also recognize the value of new presentations like those of Gibbs and Hagens, and urge others to see them, study them, and act on them.
I am mindful of the urgent and totally justified demand posed by the next generation onto us world-controlling and world-destroying adults, through the voice of Greta Thunberg, for “action!” Nate Hagens’ systemic analysis is a very important step toward answering the questions of “what actions?” and “how do we implement them?”, and of actually working on Greta’s demand.
[Thanks to Isabel Ebert for pointing me to Nate Hagens’ video.]
Richard Heinberg both appears in “Planet of the Humans,” and leads the Post Carbon Institute.
On 21 May 2021, Mark Ashwill’s excellent and moving article, “Of Class Rings, Bone Fragments and Fish Ponds: the Interminable Search for US MIAs in Vietnam,” was published (https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/05/21/of-class-rings-bone-fragments-fish-ponds-the-interminable-search-for-us-mias-in-vietnam/). It is about the searches by both Vietnamese and American groups for the unrecovered remains of those killed during the Vietnam War, while at the same time Americans continue to studiously avoid searching through their 20th century history to face up to its ongoing contortion of their 21st century national life. Think: Gaza in Palestine, May 2021, bombed Guernica-style by an unopposed Israeli military massively armed and lushly funded by the American Government.
“History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes,” (misattributed to Mark Twain, but actually from 1970).
It is my belief that 1968 was the most pivotal year in United States history after 1945. The commitment then to continue pursuing the Vietnam War, and the refusal ever since to face up to the consequences of it — unlike Germany’s postwar forthrightness about its 1933-1945 period — have doomed the U.S. to sink with increasing madness into the delusional path of “exceptionalism” it has been on since.
The last time there seemed a faint chance of breaking free from our American neo-fascist trajectory was 1976-1978, during the Carter Administration — and, yes, I know he was far from “perfect.”
I don’t think the U.S. will break free of its current delusional-ideological trajectory until it has fully come to terms with its Vietnam War history — and war crimes — and I mean by much more than just erecting a Black Wall.
The Amerindian Genocide, Black Slavery + Jim Crow, and the Vietnam War are in my view the three major American-perpetrated Holocausts. American “sleep” is shame-based denial of historical American reality. We as a nation could awaken from that sleep and transcend its underlying pathology, to such great benefit to everybody everywhere.
A good friend of mine is a 1966-1967 US Marine combat veteran of the Vietnam War, who survived much heavy combat and encirclement during the 1st Battle of Khe Sanh. He is the fiercest peacenik-socialist I’ve ever met, and also a really sweet gentle guy. He knows the truth.
And that truth is that official US Government ideology operates as an open cycle through the propagandized American Public Mind: we are not to “connect the dots” between what “we” have done with what “we” are doing. Acknowledging such attitudinally-causal links would be to operate both the personal and public minds in a morally closed cycle manner — to actually understand what is happening and why — and such clarified thinking must be dispatched into the non-thought oblivion of the memory hole in order to preserve the artifice by our political class of their guilt-free righteousness in perpetrating and sponsoring the war crimes deemed essential to the success of American foreign policy.
Let me suggest one such open cycle sequence of rhymed histories:
the Wounded Knee massacre, South Dakota 1890;
the Moro Crater massacre, southwestern Philippines 1906;
the No Gun Ri massacre, Korea 1950;
any number of massacres and bombardments in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War between 1965 and 1975;
the El Mozote massacre, El Salvador 1981, by a US trained and Reagan Administration sponsored Salvadoran Army;
the 2003-2011 Iraq War and its catastrophic aftermath;
May 2021: Palestinians apparently do not have a “right to exist,” but Israelis continue to have the right to destroy them with massive firepower gifted to them by the United States.
Imagine if closed cycle thinking had been applied after any of these catastrophes, and that had prevented subsequent ones because of the socially transformative moral effect of such thinking on the people and government of the United States. Give peace a chance. Is that funny? Why should the moral elevation of our American civilization be seen as an unrealistic and ridiculous fantasy? That is just a cowardly excuse to cling to barbarism and immaturity.
Our planet’s habitability is too rapidly and visibly decaying today, for us humans (and that includes you, unexceptional Americans!) to continue carrying on with the sociopathological behaviors exhibited by ancestors like Achilles, Genghis Khan, the Spanish Conquistadores, and the dictators of the 1930s. It is time we applied closed cycle moral thinking for the guidance of our political selves.
On 21 May 2021, The Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper reported that:
In pointing out this news story, Jeffrey St. Clair commented (23 May 2021, FB): “Same old story, all across the West. The mining, oil and timber corporations rip it up, abscond with the cash, leave behind poisonous rubble and the bill for cleaning it up…if it can be cleaned up.”
This “profitable” business behavior by resource extraction corporations is consistent with the type of energy cycle being promoted: the open cycle.
In thermodynamics, the open cycle is defined as the operation of any isolated “engine” — for extracting “work” from the consumption of “fuel” — by drawing the energy-containing resource (fuel) from an assumed infinite external and unchanging source (i.e., Nature), consuming it within the engine at high temperature to extract work (such as torque, or thrust), and exhausting the waste products of the conversion process into an assumed infinite external and unchanging sink at lower temperature (i.e., Nature). It is left to unspecified external reality — Nature — to endlessly absorb all wastes from our engines, and produce all fuels for our engines, without alteration to itself while existing at a constant temperature.
This has been a very useful concept for designing thermodynamically isolated fossil-fueled engines, like for jet airplanes, but it fails when “the engine” becomes so gargantuan — like being the aggregate fossil-fueled powering of our entire industrialized civilization — that it becomes comparable in “size” to the source and sink it is supposed to operate between. In terrestrial reality there are no isolated engines. You can’t wash an elephant in a kiddie pool, pretending it is in a river.
The aerobic-respiration-photosynthesis cycle sustaining wild animal and plant life on Planet Earth operates as a closed cycle. The aerobic exhalation of carbon dioxide by animal life is inhaled by plant photosynthesis to in turn exhale oxygen, in a balanced closed loop energized by the “fuel” of sunlight, and which cycle generates food for all: sugars, cellulose and protein.
The need to transform our civilization and reduce the amount of energy we use to conduct it, is entirely the task of abandoning further reliance on open cycle thermodynamics — the fiction that all our billions of little engines are each thermodynamically isolated — and operate our civilization’s aggregate planetary engine in a closed cycle. Of necessity this would mean abandoning the fiction that all our millions of little polities are sociologically isolated and can function in an apartheid and exclusionary manner.
Mens sana in corpore sano.
To power our planetary civilization with planetary closed cycle thermodynamics — in the interests of maintaining the longevity of human and much other life on Earth — we have to conduct our various socio-economic lives in a politically closed cycle manner across this planet. Think of this as thermodynamic socialism.
We humans are physically and intellectually capable of rearranging our civilization to operate at this elegantly integrated more advanced level, and we are now morally tasked to do so. We must leave our barbarism in the past and become a nation of morally closed cycle thinking in a world of thermodynamic socialism.
Is that impossible? The toppling of moral impossibilities in past human society always began as gleams of morally closed cycle thinking in just a few minds.
At this time, the Biosphere is warming at a rate of 3.03×10^15 Watts, which is equivalent to a temperature rate-of-rise of 0.0167°C/year. The warming rate has been increasing steadily since the 19th century, when it was on average “zero” except for natural fluctuations (plus and minus) that were hundreds of times smaller than today’s warming rate.
The total energy use by the United States in 2019 was 100 quadrillion BTU (British Thermal Units), which is equivalent to 1.055×10^20 Joules. Averaged out over the 31,557,600 seconds in a year implies a use rate of 3.34×10^12 Watts during 2019.
From the above two observations, we can deduce that the current rate of Biosphere warming on a yearly basis is equivalent to the yearly energy use in 2019 of 907 United States of Americas.
The total increase in the heat energy of the Biosphere since 1910 is 5.725×10^24 Joules, with a corresponding increase of its temperature by 1°C. That heat energy increase over the last 110 years is equivalent to 54,260 years of U.S. energy use at its 2019 amount, per year.
So, today the Biosphere is warming at a rate equivalent to it absorbing the total energy used by the U.S. in 2019, every 9 hours and 40 minutes.
In 2008, I estimated the energy of a large hurricane to be 6.944×10^17Joules.  Thus, 152 such hurricanes amount to the same total energy as that used by the U.S. during 2019.
The heat energy increase of the Biosphere during 2019 was 9.56×10^22 Joules, with a corresponding temperature increase of 0.0167°C. That heat energy increase is the energetic equivalent of 137,741 hurricanes. Now, of course, that Biosphere heat increase during 2019 did not all go into making hurricanes, but it should be easy enough to see that a small fraction (for a whopping amount) went into intensifying the weather and producing more and stronger hurricanes (and consequent flooding).
Two clear observations from all this are:
– the Biosphere is warming at an astounding rate, even if “we don’t notice it” because we gauge it by the annual change in average global surface temperature (which is in hundredths of degrees °C per year);
– the immense amount of heat added to the Biosphere every year is increasingly intensifying every aspect of weather and climate, and consequently driving profound changes to all of Earth’s environments.
Those environmental changes directly affect habitability, and species viability, because they are occurring at a rate orders of magnitude faster than the speed at which biological evolution can respond to environmental pressures.
What should we do about it all?
That is obvious: ditch capitalism and socio-economic inequities worldwide; ditch all forms of bigotry, intolerance, racism, war and social negativity; form a unified planetary political administration for the management of a socialist Earth; deploy reasonable technical mitigation strategies (like drastic reductions in the use of fossil fuels, transforming the transportation infrastructure); implement very deep and comprehensive social adaptation behaviors (“lifestyle changes,” eliminating consumerism, scrupulously protecting biodiversity, resettlement of populations displaced by permanent inundation or uninhabitable drought and heat, worldwide sharing of food production).
None of this will actually stop global warming, as the amount of carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere (assuming it has a lifetime there of thousands of years ) has us programmed to warm by about another 1°C to 2°C within two centuries, even if we immediately and permanently shut off all our greenhouse gas emissions.
But, such an improved civilization would experience the least amount of suffering — which would be equitably distributed — from the consequences of advancing global warming; and it would contribute minimally toward exacerbating future global warming.