The Great Leap Sideways

17 06 2016

Recently, on a Sustainable Population Australia forum, I was debating the fact that reducing population was no silver bullet to our predicaments, we needed to also reduce our consumption of everything.  As I am wont to do, I rattled their cages repeatedly, pointing out all the usual stuff discussed on this humble blog.  I neither doubt nor misunderstand why people get sick of me pointing out that ‘techno solutions’ are no solutions at all.  It did take me fifteen years to learn why this was so, mourn the situation, come to grips with it, then accept it and move on…..  it is no easy task.

Eventually, I’m asked what would I do if I was in charge; what solutions would I implement.  I hate telling people there are no solutions (there aren’t..), and as a result I usually spout off the only things I can think of, like canceling debts and living more simply, after which I am normally dismissed as nutcase wearing a hairshirt and living in a cave.

The other day, however, my oversimplified list of ‘solutions’ was sarcastically described as my Great Leap Forward.  This reference of course was an attempt to ridicule my ideas as nothing better than the total disaster Mao Zedong inflicted on China from 1958 to 1961.  I was far too young to understand what was going on at the time, but the sarcasm wasn’t wasted on me, I have since read about the economic and social campaign by the Chinese Communist Party resulting in 18 million to 45 million deaths……

I was of course, a bit miffed, but that comment resulted in me coming up with the title for this entry, the Great Leap Sideways.

It never ceases to amaze me that people smart enough to recognise we are overpopulated, seem unable to understand limits to other growth.  They all appear to believe that if we only reduce our numbers, we can have our cake and eat it too, a world of gadgets all powered by green energy….

It’s easy for me to offer ‘non solutions’ were I in charge of the world, because I never will be (thank goodness…)  And I hate to tell the Sustainable Population Australia members, but Mao’s 18 to 45 million deaths is a picnic in the park compared to what faces the 7.5 billion and growing population about to come face to face with reality.  The death of billions obviously appears monumental, because never before have we had so many people on the planet who will all die, one day, no matter what.  Get over it….. one day, Peak Deaths will arrive too.

As I see it today, we face the perfect storm of, in likely order they will start affecting us, economic collapse, resource and food unavailability, and catastrophic climate change.

I recently heard on the radio some scientist, whose name I unfortunately did not catch while driving, that the era of limiting emissions is over, what needs to happen now is that we have to remove CO2 from the air, and fast…. how this was meant to happen, he did not say.  probably because it’s nigh impossible, especially when considering the gargantuan scale it needs to happen on.

Just the other day, another ‘we’re saved’ meme turned up, scientists apparently managed to turn CO2 into rock in Iceland. The carboncaptureamount of energy required was of course not mentioned, and then it occurred to me that in Iceland, there’s so much sustainable geothermal energy available it’s probably the only place in the world where this would be possible to achieve… but then read further and you can read “The Iceland project has already been increased in scale to bury 10,000 tonnes of CO2 a year”.  Wow. another journalist who does not understand orders of magnitude….. because we would need to build seven million such plants just to keep up with emissions, let alone reduce CO2 concentrations down from 400ppm to 350. Just think of what doing this would do to the already plummeting ERoEI of fossil fuels!

That’s the problem of course.  No one either understands or wants to admit just how big a hole we have dug ourselves into. Just the other day I was accused by a ‘friend’ of not doing my bit because I wasn’t helping the Greens’ campaign in the current electoral farce. Been there, done that, I know when I’m wasting my time. IF, and it’s a huge if of course, the Greens could win the election, I may consider helping, but that simply won’t happen.  And even if they did win, all they’d want to do is plaster more greenhouse emitting PVs and turbines all over the countryside, a non solution.

As I keep reiterating ad nauseam, only a major economic catastrophe can save us now. It’s even too late for the Great Leap Sideways…..

In case you missed it, the simplicity institute has released its latest doco.  It’s cute, but it will not convince anyone but the diehard that this is the way to change…..





20 responses

17 06 2016
Chris Harries

Nice essay. I like the GLS term.

As for the ardent population control folk, there are many different motives there all in the same bed. Many of them are perversely racist and xenophobic, so I’ve found it a very hard place to talk about the population issue seriously – as another important limit, rather than the one and only.

Much of their drive I think boils down to becoming frustrated, having learned that their lifestyle is no longer possible, and finding a target for that disappointment … “If it wasn’t for all those hoards of people everything would be ok…..”

17 06 2016

You want people to turn their backs on everything they have ever worked for, everything they have ever aimed at, everything that they believe in, everything they stand for. All that makes seeing the population problem easy, because the overpopulation problem is too many of them and not too many of us.

The belief that more is better has been around so long it has been bred into us. Quite simply our civilization needs the belief.

The other essential belief is that tomorrow will be better.

These beliefs are not true, but our civilization will crash and burn before we ever admit it. The wilful blindness will continue until circumstance rips our fingers from in front of our eyes and our thumbs from out of our ears. We will run around in circles shouting “not true, not true” until the fires are burnt out.

Hatred and denial are all we have left.

17 06 2016

In my defence, it took me about 10 years. I do vote for The Greens but only becasue 1. I have to be there or suffer a fine and the alternatives are to repugnant to consider. I also ensure I don’t contribute to the problem of over consumption and over emitting (I keep mine to about 2-2.5t per annum) by ensuring I live simply, quit work, had a vasectomy and keep my emissions very, very low. it’s one thing to know there is a issue, it’s quite the other to deliberatly throw gas on the fire by blithely emitting and consuming.

17 06 2016

What’s to be done with all the nuclear power plants & all our nuclear waste in a massive economic depression?
Well since we all worship the God of technology,simply hit the “any” key & all our problems are solved.

17 06 2016
Why voting is fast becoming a farce…… | Damn the Matrix

[…] what got me inspired to write this piece, hot on the heels of the Great Leap Sideways, was the Australian Greens’ leader Richard Di Natale’s economic vision for […]

17 06 2016
Brandon Young

Hi Mike.

You may remember that you posted one of my comments previously:

You said in today’s post:

Eventually, I’m asked what would I do if I was in charge; what solutions would I implement. I hate telling people there are no solutions (there aren’t..), and as a result I usually spout off the only things I can think of, like canceling debts and living more simply, after which I am normally dismissed as nutcase wearing a hairshirt and living in a cave.

I think there are solutions that are practical and plausible, although the task of gathering enough political will for such fundamental change is certainly an enormous challenge. Perhaps you can critique these solutions:

The system we have is unsustainable, as all readers of your blog will fully understand. There are two reasons it is unsustainable: it depends on the perpetual exponential growth of private debt for the financial system to remain stable; and the value of real world resources is not fully reflected in economic values.

These two problems can be solved. We can move to a Sovereign Money system, where a sovereign agency such as the central bank has control over the money supply. This removes the imperative for an infinitely growing pile of private debt, and for infinite economic growth to demand and service that debt. There are detailed and comprehensive plans to transition to a Sovereign Money System in section 1.3 and Chapter 7 of this excellent document:

The failure to account for the social, environmental and systemic value of real world resources can be addressed by making a transition to a Goal Controlled Market model, which would force the market to deliver the exact outcomes we need and want. Previous approaches to internalising the costs to the real world have tried to arrive at economic values on the resources themselves, and so end up with subjective assessments of their relative value.

The Goal Controlled Market model is a superior approach that values the impact of economic activities on our collective goals, which include sustainability as the fundamental priority, along with the other needs and wants of humanity and the planet. We could transition from the old system to the new goal controlled market system over a period of 10 or even 20 years, as explained here:

A Goal Controlled Market has a pair of pricing signals for each of the goals we want the economy to deliver. An independent sovereign agency, which is both fully transparent and fully accountable, collects revenue from activities that drive market outcomes away from each goal, and distributes that revenue to activities that drive outcomes towards the goal. If the market response to the pricing signal is too weak, the pricing signal is increased, and when the market response is changing the outcome for the goal faster than the desired trajectory, the pricing signal is reduced.

This is equivalent to having a control panel that allows direct control over economic outcomes, making them follow whatever trajectory we lay out. The old system of taxation and regulation cannot do that.

This new system has no complexity whatsoever. There are no loopholes, or complex rules that can be worked around. The market incentives ensure that businesses are driven to achieve the exact outcomes the sovereign nation desires. With everything pushing in the same direction, driven by the incentives embodied in the pricing signals, the need for complex regulation simply dissolves away.

This is a big-data systems approach. The data is accumulated with a continuous stream of real world measurement of economic activities and real world outcomes related to each goal. This data reveals the correlation between economic activities and real world outcomes, and so allows the pricing signals imposed on each economic activity to closely correspond with that activity’s specific contribution to the outcome, positive or negative. The higher the negative impact on the system goal, the greater the penalty imposed, and the higher the positive impact on the system goal, the greater the reward paid out. Negative outcomes are systematically replaced with positive outcomes, and the entire process is revenue neutral, with the destructive activities subsidising the constructive activities just heavily enough to create the desired outcome.

The data also reveals a real time measure of the effect of the pricing signals. As the pricing signals are regularly adjusted, say every three months or every month, the data will show the change in mix of economic activities in real time. All values in the system are self-calibrating over time, both the magnitude of the pricing signals, and the relative impact each economic activity has on each system goal.

Other goals can be added to the system at will, and do not add any complexity whatsoever.

We can directly control markets in this way. There is no theory involved, there are no losers as we make the transition, and the cost of making that transition is practically zero while the benefits are whatever we want them to be.

This model can be used to deliver the perfect global response to climate change:

So there are solutions available, and all that is required is a change of thinking and the accumulation of political will for fundamental change. That is the positive side of the equation, and there is of course also a negative side – the corporatisation agenda dressed up as “free trade” and culminating with TISA. This agenda must be stopped if even national governments are to have any control over how the giant network of multinational banks and corporations plunder the real world, depleting social and natural systems beyond the tipping points into catastrophic collapse. The best explanations are here:

Thanks for giving it some thought if you can and for your ongoing efforts.

27 06 2016

Great post and linked articles Brandon. Thanks.
As you say, “gathering enough political will” is a major problem. Even if the pollies were motivated, convincing the masses before it’s too late is another.

28 06 2016
Brandon Young

Thanks for the feedback. There is quite a lot of information to be absorbed and considered, and it is pleasing to know that you have taken the time and effort to do just that, and found value in the arguments. I can only hope that other readers might have done the same, or will do so now on the back of your endorsement. Thanks again.

17 06 2016
Dr Bob Rich

Mike, I fully agree with almost everything you say in your great leap sideways. It’s spot on.
My one point of disagreement is that it is STILL worthwhile to support the Australian Greens to the max. They are the only party committed to keeping coal in the ground. They are the only party committed to humane, decent treatment of everyone, including asylum seekers. (What would be the point of survival, if it’s the continuation of global fascism?)
Sure, they are not going to form government, but they have had immense influence, in the way before them the Australian Democrats did.
Please reconsider, and put the weight of your opinion behind them.
Even people who are misguided enough to support either Labor or the COALition should register a protest vote at all the corruption by voting Greens first, the party of their choice second.

17 06 2016

Don’t get me wrong Bob, I may well give them my second preference, and I will always put the Laborals last…..

Coal will be kept in the ground, because soon no one will be buying it. It’s just that if I have an opportunity to put up a protest vote against the Greens, then it will make me feel better. In the end, I’ll almost certainly be the only one voting the way I will, because almost no one thinks about what they’re doing, and worse, don’t even understand the preferential voting system.

I actually heard a ning nong on the radio the other day saying he wouldn’t vote fr labor because it was a vote for the Greens….. go figure. We’re surrounded by imbeciles….

Totally frustrated………

17 06 2016

Hi Mike.
I have regularly posted the following my list of things to be done on many fora and emailed it to many politicians and journalists etc., along with many links to articles on population overshoot, economic and urban decay, climate disruption, pollution, erosion of liberties, environmental destruction, ERoEI, arctic methane release and the lunacy of pursuing infinite growth. Even in the face of logic and science, most still can not comprehend and that includes those that govern us.

Here is what I would do and so what if few billionaires go broke:
1: Forget economics. It is “fatally” flawed. It has polluted the planet, poisoned us all, does not factor physics nor the environment and is what has got us into this mess in the first place.
2: Implement national and encourage international population reduction strategies otherwise, one way or another, nature will drag us back to sustainable levels and it won’t be pretty.
3: Properly manage our finite resources which, are currently being pillaged.
4: Reduce consumption using quotas and not with unfair taxation. We can not shop our way to sustainability and we can not borrow our way to prosperity.
5: Plant lots and lots of trees. Massive scale reforestation will help the climate, rainfall and be a valuable renewable resource for future generations.
6: Restore the liberties and freedoms stolen from us by corporate serving politicians.

Even if we stopped all fossil fuel use immediately, we are still in for forty or so years of warming and feedback.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) – Planned Sterilization of Humanity?
“Originally everything went smoothly. However, we noticed quite a serious effect when we selected new pairs from their cubs and continued to feed them as before. These pairs’ growth rate was slower, and [they] reached their sexual maturity slowly. When we got some of their cubs, we formed the new pairs of the third generation. We failed to get cubs from these pairs which were fed with GMO foodstuffs. It was proven that these pairs lost their ability to give birth to their cubs.”

17 06 2016

Me too, Mike, but just keep doing what you’re doing….as I will…the idiots will wake up soon enough.

Have you seen Robert Scribbler’s recent post about the supa doopa electric trucks? Everyone was raving in the comments about them. I put on a comment that as they were hybrids and still depended on oil, they were going to be a real goer when oil ran out. The comment went up, but I checked today and it’s been deleted. Second time he’s done that. They just don’t want to accept the real truth. I’m seriously considering deleting his blog from my feed. Frustrating isn’t the word!!

18 06 2016

R.S. will not allow comments which dispute the renewable energy dream. I had the same problem on his site until I was banned completely. Ugo Bardi is another that censors comments denouncing renewable energy and he also has me banned.
Although I still read their blogs, I no longer bother to comment.

18 06 2016
Chris Harries

Ugo is a smart guy too, and writes many good articles.

I think part of the problem here is that arguments commenting negatively on renewable energy are too easy to be interpreted as siding with climate denial or pro-coal. When it boils down to it if our energy future is not renewable then it has to be fossil-fuelled.

The fundamental issue here is, of course,scale. The renewables lobby has successfully persuaded the majority of citizens that there are no limits-to-growth that can’t be fixed by new technology. This is a serious disjunct.

We can’t blame people for wanting to believe in an easy, magic solution. It’s a much harder thing to be the spider and argue that it ain’t quite so easy as that.

18 06 2016
Chris Harries

Hah! I meant spider, not spider! Auto-correct tripped me up again.

18 06 2016
Chris Harries


17 06 2016
Robert Callaghan
17 06 2016

Thanks for this Robert. Yep, we’re done.

17 06 2016

I too saw that news from Iceland and was dubious about its merits. Good to see some numbers around it.

18 06 2016

The trouble with the Greens is that they don’t have a population policy for Australia. Globalisation is not sustainable. If we’re to have any hope of becoming self-sufficient (in a less consumeristic way) , we need to restrict our population size. Yes, it may be selfish, but we are on a lifeboat.

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