How I came to know that I am a closet climate denier

5 09 2017

File 20170828 17154 1asx2tb
So large are the nation’s daily greenhouse gas emissions that if yours is a typical Australian lifestyle you’re contributing disproportionately to climate change.
Carbon Visuals/flickr, CC BY

Joy Murray, University of Sydney

This article is part of an ongoing series from the Post-Truth Initiative, a Strategic Research Excellence Initiative at the University of Sydney. The series examines today’s post-truth problem in public discourse: the thriving economy of lies, bullshit and propaganda that threatens rational discourse and policy.

The project brings together scholars of media and communications, government and international relations, physics, philosophy, linguistics, and medicine, and is affiliated with the Sydney Social Sciences and Humanities Advanced Research Centre (SSSHARC), the Sydney Environment Institute and the Sydney Democracy Network.

What we believe and how we act don’t always stack up. Recently, in considering what it means to live in a post-truth world, I had cause to examine my understanding of how the world works and my actions on sustainability.

I realised I was, in effect, almost as much a climate denier as those who profess to be. Here’s how.

1.1 A way of understanding how the world works

I take a cybernetic view of the world. For me this means a holistic systems perspective based on circularity and feedback with a biological/evolutionary slant.

As I understand it, we learn and change as we bump up against the milieu we inhabit, which changes as we bump into it.

Our ontogeny – our life history since conception – determines what we contribute to that milieu, and the life histories of others determine what they take from it.

1.2 Sustainability

Now to the messages that we – the Integrated Sustainability Analysis (ISA) group at the University of Sydney – strive to communicate to the world.

Using input-output analysis, we put numbers to trends in emissions. We communicate on environmental and social sustainability through books, journals and conferences, showing how complex supply chains snake around the world.

We suggest that once producers, consumers and global corporations know the damage that is being done they will take action to stop it. Meanwhile, we discuss the motivations of climate deniers and wonder what we can do to change things.

1.3 The big collision

This is where I bump into my understanding of the world. What messages do people take from what we contribute to the milieu? Are they changed by the sustainability messages we try to communicate?

Dan Kahan and colleagues from the Yale Law School suggest that perception of risk from climate change depends on our cultural worldview: we dismiss risk if accepting it would mean social upheaval. Survival within the group, they say, trumps lifestyle change.

This fits with my understanding of how our ontogeny determines our survival needs and how our perception of survival within the group influences our actions. It also fits with my view about how people learn – we pick up from the surrounding milieu what fits with our views and ignore the rest.

I nodded along with Kahan, aligning myself with those trying to tell others of the risk. Until I realised there were two problems in such a position.

Problem one

The first problem is that my behaviour is little different from that of Kahan’s subjects. I live in Australia, which has the fifth-highest gross national income per capita. We also have the highest per-capita emissions in the OECD.

While I minimise waste and do my recycling, it would take a lifestyle upheaval to drop my household emissions to the sustainable share suggested by people like Peter Singer. So, I behave as though the call to act on climate change in an equitable way does not apply to me.

I am not alone in understanding the issues, being concerned about the consequences, and yet failing to act. It’s known as the “knowledge, concern, action paradox”.

Julien Vincent, writing about investors who ostensibly support the Paris Agreement yet fail to act, refers to this as a “much subtler, but no less damaging, form of denial”. He cites a case of Santos investors, aware of the consequences, professing concern, yet choosing to vote against a resolution that would have committed the company to conduct a 2°C scenario analysis.

It would seem that knowing the truth and professing concern about climate change are the easy parts. They cost nothing and allow us to claim the kudos that accrues to taking up such a position.

However, knowing the truth and professing concern without taking action is somewhat disingenuous. At worst it is living a lie, akin to being a closet climate denier.

So, even when recognising this truth/action/denial dilemma, why don’t we act? George Marshall, in his book Don’t Even Think About It, provides an insight. He discusses our evolutionary origins, our perception of threats, including climate change, and our instincts to protect family and tribe.

This resonates with my take on cybernetics, which suggests I live the way I do because I need to survive in my physical, economic, social and cultural environment; and because in a different era it would have given my offspring the best chance of survival.

It doesn’t let me off the hook – I still need to take action to lower my emissions – but it reminds me I shouldn’t be so quick to judge. I’m as much a part of the system as anyone else.

Meanwhile, my cybernetic take on life says that whatever we put into the milieu matters. So even though very few of us living in high-income countries can reduce our emissions to an equitable share, whatever actions we take to reduce them contribute to the world of tomorrow, next week, next year. They change the milieu, which changes the possibilities for change.

Problem two

Putting myself outside the system leads to the second problem, which is contingent on the first and means that if I can’t change my own actions I can’t expect to change those of others.

For while I shout about climate change, hoping others will hear what I say and act on it, in so many ways I communicate that I’m not acting on it myself.

A recent online survey showed that a researcher’s perceived carbon footprint affected her/his credibility and influenced the participants’ intentions to change their energy consumption.

If I know the figures, accept the science and yet continue to lead my rich nation lifestyle, I’m fair game as an excuse, conscious or not, for the deniers to continue their climate-indifferent lifestyles.

This doesn’t mean sharing our research is a waste of time. It provides valuable information about the social, economic and environmental effects of doing business; again, it changes the milieu. But it’s highly unlikely that people will read it and change what they do, which is a far more complex process.

Changing attitudes and action

Much research has been devoted to the question of how, and how not, to influence people’s responses to the threats posed by climate change.

Michael Mann is wary of scare campaigns as a motivating force. Bob Costanza and colleagues suggest that scare campaigns from scientists and activists alike are not the answer to weaning us off our addiction to an unsustainable lifestyle.

There’s research to suggest that enlisting the help of a trusted community member might be an effective alternative. Having an advocate present benefits of a low-carbon lifestyle, framed around community issues like energy security rather than climate change, has had some success.

Such an approach could help provide a way to take action for people who know about the science but whose political affiliations and values position them at the climate denial end of the spectrum, regardless of their knowledge.

However, it may not help those of us whose political affiliations and values are aligned with acting on climate change, yet still find it hard to act.

Probably more pertinent to our case is research showing that our actions on climate change are circumscribed not only by the political and cultural contexts that we inhabit but also by the infrastructure provided by them. That’s because this infrastructure forms the milieu that enfolds our lives.

So, where to from here?

If this is the case, then resolution to my first problem might require a significant change to the web of edifices that support my lifestyle. It would take a climate-friendly government with a narrative that normalises action on climate change to make it easy for me to survive in the group and live a low-carbon lifestyle.

Sweden provides an example of what this could look like. For many countries, though, a shift in the national narrative might seem impossible.

In Sweden, a rare example of a rich nation with low emissions, Hammarby in Stockholm is a model of environmentally friendly city development.
Ola Ericson/

There are examples of dramatic change to a seemingly inviolable narrative, but they come with a “be careful what you wish for” label.

Recently, we’ve seen Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn, Nigel Farage and Donald Trump make spectacular changes to the political landscape. They illustrate the power of engaging at the community level, discussing local issues (albeit sometimes with the help of big data), portraying empathy and swearing commitment to local solutions.

These leaders have changed the discourse. A cybernetic take on the process might say that their acts of communication triggered a lifetime of connotations in their hearers. The hearers interpreted the message through the prism of their ontogeny, feeding back into the mix their personal understandings, amplifying the message and influencing others by their own communications.

This is a process that works for good or ill, depending where you stand. So a world leader with climate credentials and sufficient clout to make the low-carbon lifestyle message sound mainstream could change the world’s trajectory.

However, ranged against the wisdom of waiting for such a one is the ominous presence of big data companies with the capacity to help manipulate individuals as well as whole communities; uber-wealthy individuals and groups with the ability to influence leaders and world politics; and the top 10% of global income earners who are responsible for almost as much greenhouse gas emissions as the rest of us together.

All are acting out of their own survival instincts and are unlikely to succumb to any amount of persuasive argument from a climate-conscious leader.

So how else to change the milieu to support more of us in achieving a more sustainable lifestyle? Nobel prize-winning economist Elinor Ostrom’s view is that the planet’s salvation lies with communities everywhere bypassing governments and taking action themselves. In 2012 she wrote:

… evolutionary policymaking is already happening organically. In the absence of effective national and international legislation to curb greenhouse gases, a growing number of city leaders are acting to protect their citizens and economies.

Those mayors defying Trump’s exit from the Paris Agreement come to mind as examples.

Ostrom suggests that supporting distributed leadership is the answer. And, to bring us back to cybernetics, management cybernetics guru Stafford Beer did exactly that.

Beer took Ashby’s law of requisite variety and revolutionised the way business management operated. Ashby’s law tells us that only variety (or complexity) can control variety. That leaves 90% of the global population to bring together the system variety required to influence – Ashby says “control” – the very wealthy high-emissions minority.

So, I’m backing distributed leadership to overcome my own inability to cut my emissions further. Investing in the work of organisations that can act will be my proxy.

This may look like a slow haul to change the milieu so that action on climate change becomes normal life, but I’m counting on the snowballing power of amplification to make it happen sooner rather than later.

The complexity of the 90% will eventually trump that of the 10%, by which time my second problem should be irrelevant.

You can read other pieces in the post-truth series here.

The ConversationThe Democracy Futures series is a joint global initiative between The Conversation and the Sydney Democracy Network. The project aims to stimulate fresh thinking about the many challenges facing democracies in the 21st century.

Joy Murray, Senior Research Fellow in Integrated Sustainability Analysis, School of Physics, Faculty of Science, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


More gnashing of teeth

7 02 2017

The Über-Lie

By Richard Heinberg, Post Carbon Institute

heinbergNevertheless, even as political events spiral toward (perhaps intended) chaos, I wish once again, as I’ve done countless times before, to point to a lie even bigger than the ones being served up by the new administration…It is the lie that human society can continue growing its population and consumption levels indefinitely on our finite planet, and never suffer consequences.

This is an excellent article from Richard Heinberg, the writer who sent me on my current life voyage all those years ago. Hot on the heels of my attempt yesterday of explaining where global politics are heading, Richard (whom I met years ago and even had a meal with…) does a better job than I could ever possibly muster.  Enjoy……


Our new American president is famous for spinning whoppers. Falsehoods, fabrications, distortions, deceptions—they’re all in a day’s work. The result is an increasingly adversarial relationship between the administration and the press, which may in fact be the point of the exercise: as conservative commentators Scott McKay suggests in The American Spectator, “The hacks covering Trump are as lazy as they are partisan, so feeding them . . . manufactured controversies over [the size of] inaugural crowds is a guaranteed way of keeping them occupied while things of real substance are done.”

But are some matters of real substance (such as last week’s ban on entry by residents of seven Muslim-dominated nations) themselves being used to hide even deeper and more significant shifts in power and governance? Steve “I want to bring everything crashing down” Bannon, who has proclaimed himself an enemy of Washington’s political class, is a member of a small cabal (also including Trump, Stephen Miller, Reince Priebus, and Jared Kushner) that appears to be consolidating nearly complete federal governmental power, drafting executive orders, and formulating political strategy—all without paper trail or oversight of any kind. The more outrage and confusion they create, the more effective is their smokescreen for the dismantling of governmental norms and institutions.

There’s no point downplaying the seriousness of what is up. Some commentators are describing it as a coup d’etat in progress; there is definitely the potential for blood in the streets at some point.

Nevertheless, even as political events spiral toward (perhaps intended) chaos, I wish once again, as I’ve done countless times before, to point to a lie even bigger than the ones being served up by the new administration—one that predates the new presidency, but whose deconstruction is essential for understanding the dawning Trumpocene era. I’m referring to a lie that is leading us toward not just political violence but, potentially, much worse. It is an untruth that’s both durable and bipartisan; one that the business community, nearly all professional economists, and politicians around the globe reiterate ceaselessly. It is the lie that human society can continue growing its population and consumption levels indefinitely on our finite planet, and never suffer consequences.

Yes, this lie has been debunked periodically, starting decades ago. A discussion about planetary limits erupted into prominence in the 1970s and faded, yet has never really gone away. But now those limits are becoming less and less theoretical, more and more real. I would argue that the emergence of the Trump administration is a symptom of that shift from forecast to actuality.

Consider population. There were one billion of us on Planet Earth in 1800. Now there are 7.5 billion, all needing jobs, housing, food, and clothing. From time immemorial there were natural population checks—disease and famine. Bad things. But during the last century or so we defeated those population checks. Famines became rare and lots of diseases can now be cured. Modern agriculture grows food in astounding quantities. That’s all good (for people anyway—for ecosystems, not so much). But the result is that human population has grown with unprecedented speed.

Some say this is not a problem, because the rate of population growth is slowing: that rate was two percent per year in the 1960s; now it’s one percent. Yet because one percent of 7.5 billion is more than two percent of 3 billion (which was the world population in 1960), the actual number of people we’re now adding annually is the highest ever: over eighty million—the equivalent of Tokyo, New York, Mexico City, and London added together. Much of that population growth is occurring in countries that are already having a hard time taking care of their people. The result? Failed states, political unrest, and rivers of refugees.

Per capita consumption of just about everything also grew during past decades, and political and economic systems came to depend upon economic growth to provide returns on investments, expanding tax revenues, and positive poll numbers for politicians. Nearly all of that consumption growth depended on fossil fuels to provide energy for raw materials extraction, manufacturing, and transport. But fossil fuels are finite and by now we’ve used the best of them. We are not making the transition to alternative energy sources fast enough to avert crisis (if it is even possible for alternative energy sources to maintain current levels of production and transport). At the same time, we have depleted other essential resources, including topsoil, forests, minerals, and fish. As we extract and use resources, we create pollution—including greenhouse gasses, which cause climate change.

Depletion and pollution eventually act as a brake on further economic growth even in the wealthiest nations. Then, as the engine of the economy slows, workers find their incomes leveling off and declining—a phenomenon also related to the globalization of production, which elites have pursued in order to maximize profits.

Declining wages have resulted in the upwelling of anti-immigrant and anti-globalization sentiments among a large swath of the American populace, and those sentiments have in turn served up Donald Trump. Here we are. It’s perfectly understandable that people are angry and want change. Why not vote for a vain huckster who promises to “Make America Great Again”? However, unless we deal with deeper biophysical problems (population, consumption, depletion, and pollution), as well as the policies that elites have used to forestall the effects of economic contraction for themselves (globalization, financialization, automation, a massive increase in debt, and a resulting spike in economic inequality), America certainly won’t be “great again”; instead, we’ll just proceed through the five stages of collapse helpfully identified by Dmitry Orlov.

Rather than coming to grips with our society’s fundamental biophysical contradictions, we have clung to the convenient lies that markets will always provide, and that there are plenty of resources for as many humans as we can ever possibly want to crowd onto this little planet. And if people are struggling, that must be the fault of [insert preferred boogeyman or group here]. No doubt many people will continue adhering to these lies even as the evidence around us increasingly shows that modern industrial society has already entered a trajectory of decline.

While Trump is a symptom of both the end of economic growth and of the denial of that new reality, events didn’t have to flow in his direction. Liberals could have taken up the issues of declining wages and globalization (as Bernie Sanders did) and even immigration reform. For example, Colin Hines, former head of Greenpeace’s International Economics Unit and author of Localization: A Global Manifesto, has just released a new book, Progressive Protectionism, in which he argues that “We must make the progressive case for controlling our borders, and restricting not just migration but the free movement of goods, services and capital where it threatens environment, wellbeing and social cohesion.”

But instead of well-thought out policies tackling the extremely complex issues of global trade, immigration, and living wages, we have hastily written executive orders that upend the lives of innocents. Two teams (liberal and conservative) are lined up on the national playing field, with positions on all significant issues divvied up between them. As the heat of tempers rises, our options are narrowed to choosing which team to cheer for; there is no time to question our own team’s issues. That’s just one of the downsides of increasing political polarization—which Trump is exacerbating dramatically.

Just as Team Trump covers its actions with a smokescreen of controversial falsehoods, our society hides its biggest lie of all—the lie of guaranteed, unending economic growth—behind a camouflage of political controversies. Even in relatively calm times, the über-lie was watertight: almost no one questioned it. Like all lies, it served to divert attention from an unwanted truth—the truth of our collective vulnerability to depletion, pollution, and the law of diminishing returns. Now that truth is more hidden than ever.

Our new government shows nothing but contempt for environmentalists and it plans to exit Paris climate agreement. Denial reigns! Chaos threatens! So why bother bringing up the obscured reality of limits to growth now, when immediate crises demand instant action? It’s objectively too late to restrain population and consumption growth so as to avert what ecologists of the 1970s called a “hard landing.” Now we’ve fully embarked on the age of consequences, and there are fires to put out. Yes, the times have moved on, but the truth is still the truth, and I would argue that it’s only by understanding the biophysical wellsprings of change that can we successfully adapt, and recognize whatever opportunities come our way as the pace of contraction accelerates to the point that decline can no longer successfully be hidden by the elite’s strategies.

Perhaps Donald Trump succeeded because his promises spoke to what civilizations in decline tend to want to hear. It could be argued that the pluralistic, secular, cosmopolitan, tolerant, constitutional democratic nation state is a political arrangement appropriate for a growing economy buoyed by pervasive optimism. (On a scale much smaller than contemporary America, ancient Greece and Rome during their early expansionary periods provided examples of this kind of political-social arrangement). As societies contract, people turn fearful, angry, and pessimistic—and fear, anger, and pessimism fairly dripped from Trump’s inaugural address. In periods of decline, strongmen tend to arise promising to restore past glories and to defeat domestic and foreign enemies. Repressive kleptocracies are the rule rather than the exception.

If that’s what we see developing around us and we want something different, we will have to propose economic, political, and social forms that are appropriate to the biophysical realities increasingly confronting us—and that embody or promote cultural values that we wish to promote or preserve. Look for good historic examples. Imagine new strategies. What program will speak to people’s actual needs and concerns at this moment in history? Promising a return to an economy and way of life that characterized a past moment is pointless, and it may propel demagogues to power. But there is always a range of possible responses to the reality of the present. What’s needed is a new hard-nosed sort of optimism (based on an honest acknowledgment of previously denied truths) as an alternative to the lies of divisive bullies who take advantage of the elites’ failures in order to promote their own patently greedy interests. What that actually means in concrete terms I hope to propose in more detail in future essays.

Wilful Blindness, Wilful Hypocrisy, You first. What’s your spin?

27 11 2014

My Photo

John Weber

Reblogged from John Weber’s website, with permission…….  John has lived off the grid for over 30 years making his own electricity from sun and wind..  He is most concerned about the psychological impact of the culture shock coming down the pike.

Here’s the deal. Research reveals that we lie to ourselves. Not you and I of course, but others do prolifically. Wilful Blindness is one of various books and research papers that verify this. We seem to fool ourselves for a variety of reasons. Two of the main reasons, one is self protective and the other is social protective.

From Margaret Heffernan’s Wilful Blindness:

“People are highly driven to do things that build self-worth; you can’t transgress and think of yourself as bad. You need to protect your sense of yourself as good. And so people transform harmful practices into worthy ones, by coming up with social justification, by distancing themselves with euphemisms, by ignoring the long-term consequences of their actions. “

Heffernan, Margaret. 2011. Wilful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril. Walker. N.Y. pg. 195.

This is something that I have known for a long time. Here is a quote from my journal written when I was around twelve years of age. It is from a book on psychology but I don’t know which. I started reading psychology books at eleven – Freud, Havelock Ellis, Kraft-Ebing, Jung, etc. Yes, I have always been strange. I didn’t know to copy references at that age.

“We build up a picture of ourselves; hence, we come to expect certain things from ourselves, to value ourselves and to do everything possible to keep this idealized picture of ourselves unspoiled.”

The social protective is our very human need to belong. The essence of being human is being a social animal. We must learn the rules of our particular game early – language, emotional display, right, wrong, and most importantly how to belong. We carry this early training (shaping) with us our whole life. Without it we do not survive physically or psychologically.

“As the pioneering psychopharmacologist Jaak Panksepp put it, ‘social affect and social bonding are in some fundamental neurochemical sense opioid addictions.’In other words, our desire to seek social connection with others comes from chemical rewards as well as social ones.”

Heffernan, Margaret. 2011. Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril. Walker. N.Y. pg. 132.

Endorphins: Endorphins (“endogenous morphine”) are endogenous opioid peptides that function as neurotransmitters.[1] They are produced by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus in vertebrates during exercise,[2] excitement, pain, consumption of spicy food, love and orgasm,[3][4] and they resemble the opiates in their abilities to produce analgesia and a feeling of well-being.

. . . the general argument is that we deceive ourselves the better to deceive others. To fool others, we may be tempted to reorganize information internally in all sorts of improbable ways and to do so largely unconsciously. . . . the primary function of self-deception is offensive – measured as the ability to fool others.

Trivers, Robert. 2011. The Folly of Fools. Basic Books. N.Y.

Here is the point of this. There is lots of information about the convergence of serious problems. There is lots of information – books, articles, internet, meetings – on these problems and the solutions.

“. . . A lot of people think we were facing our last century as a viable civilization, maybe even as a species. Global warming, overpopulation, the death of he seas, the loss of arable land, the proliferation of disease, the threat of nuclear or biological warfare . . .”

“We might have destroyed ourselves but at least it would have been our own fault.”

“Would it, though? Whose fault exactly? Yours? Mine? No, it would have been the result of several billion humn beings making relatively innocuous choices: to have kids, drive a car to work, keep their job, solve the short-term problems first. When you reach the point at which even the most trivial acts are punishable by the death of the species, then obviously, obviously, you’re at a critical juncture, a different kin of point of no return.”

Wilson, Robert Charles. 2005. Spin. Tom Doherty Associates Book. N.Y. pg.127-128.

In essence few if any of us are really doing a damn thing about it. We all have our spin.

From the Energy Round Table – a quote from the moderator and in italics a poster:

“Hitting the gas pedal decades ago is not something that

I think anyone who understood the problem would have

done. Why would anyone with half a brain make a plan

that severely damaged the biosphere of the planet that

their descendants would have to live (or die) on??”

Bill Tamblyn – Moderator

If we don’t use all the water, someone else will.

If we don’t use the oil, someone else will.

If we don’t burn the coal, someone else will.

If we don’t spread GMO crops, someone else will.

If we don’t make more babies, someone else will.

If we don’t waste the biosphere, someone else will.

If hitting the oil or coal or baby or gas pedal

gets me ahead or more status, then I must do it.

Was this a plan or lots of little plans?

More likely we just can’t help ourselves?

Does tragedy of the commons fit here?

Arlen Comfort

My partner in answer to using a banana each day at breakfast and buying strawberries grown a thousand miles away said, “But I don’t buy roses.” Friends, who I love dearly and who are very environmentally and energy conscious, have a business totally dependent on driving to supply it and tourism for its success. They modified their distribution paths and feel they have made a significant change.


Let’s be clear.  Every mile we drive supports fracking, tar sands, pollution of the oceans, underground water, rivers, the air, and our food.Each meeting we attend to save the earth from whatever surely makes us feel good.Each thing we write, each time we talk about this, we are playing the Transactional Analysis game – “Ain’t it Awful?”.

Each of the maybe billion of us at the top of the energy/resource heap are rushing towards the cliff. I do not to excuse myself from the spinning. This from one of my other essays:

Just say I.

I am polluting our ground water by using the natural gas from fracking. I am creating havoc in the oceans by spilling life-killing oil. I am also plasticizing the oceans. I am also limiting or eliminating species after species in the ocean, on the land, in the air. I am putting my medicines into the rivers and the water supply. I am greedily creating food sources that only I control. I am removing the topsoil. I am gouging huge holes in the earth. I am burning coal and creating nuclear waste for thousands of years to come for my flat screen television, my computer and my DVD player. I am putting mercury and acids into the air, water and life. I am melting the ice caps and the glaciers. I am heating the planet to drive my snowmobile, my wave runner, and my four-wheeler and to drive to any damn place I want. I am using many people to cater to my many whims.

I saw the DVD “What a Way to Go” yesterday. It was very well done in listing the freight train laden with our woes coming straight at us. The many speakers continually said, “we are doing this” and “we are doing that”. They must have been talking about me. Because I am aware of these things and more and I keep doing it.

John Weber

Busy in Northern Minnesota doing all these things and more.

So enjoy while you can. I am.

Some internet sources:

My site:

Abelson, Robert P. 2004. Experiments with people : revelations from social psychology. Lawrence Erlbaum. Mahwah, N.J.

Bayne, Tim and Fernández.Jordi, editors. 2009. Delusion and self-deception : affective and motivational influences on belief formation. Psychology Press. New York.

Berne, Eric. 1964. Games people play : the psychology of human relationships. Grove Press. New York.

Berners-Lee. Mike. 2011. How Bad Are Bananas?: The Carbon Footprint of Everything. Greystone. Vancouver.

Cumpsty. John S. 1991. Religion as Belonging. University Press of America. N.Y.

Fonseca, Eduardo Giannetti da. 2000. Lies we live by : the art of self-deception. St. Martin’s Press. New York.

Gianetti, Eduardo. 1997. Lies We Live By: The Art of Self-Deception. Bloomsbury. N.Y.

Hirstein, William. 2005. Brain fiction : self-deception and the riddle of confabulation. MIT Press. Cambridge, Mass.

Keyes, Ralph. 2004. The Post-truth Era. St. Martin’s Press. N.Y.

Kurzban, Robert. 2010. Why everybody (else) is a hypocrite. Princeton.

Lockard, Joan S. and Paulhus, Delroy L. Editors. 1988. Self-Deception: An Adaptive Mechanism. Prentice Hall. New Jersey.

Mele, Alfred R. 2001. Self-deception unmasked. Princeton University Press. Princeton, N.J.

Triandis, Harry Charalambos. 2009. Fooling ourselves : self-deception in politics, religion, and terrorism. Praeger Publishers. Westport, Conn.

Twerski, Abraham J. 1997. Addictive thinking : understanding self-deception. Hazelden. Center City, MN.

“. . . The farther removed we become from our neighbours, the more siloed in our self-sufficiency, the easier it is to treat people as things, to turn a blind eye to the human costs of toxic cultures and to make immoral decisions.


Credibility gap


Terminological inexactitudes (Winston Churchill’s)

Poetic truth

Parallel truth

Nuanced truth

Imaginative truth

Virtual truth

Alternative reality

Strategic misrepresentations

Creative enhancement

Non-full disclosure

Selective disclosure

Augmented reality

Nearly true

Almost true

Counterfactual statements

Fact-based information


Enrich the truth

Enhance the truth

Embroider the truth

Massage the truth

Tamper with the truth

Tell more than the truth

Bend the truth

Soften the truth

Shade the truth

Shave the truth

Stretch the truth

Stray from the truth

Withhold the truth

Tell the truth improved

Present the truth in a favourable perspective

Make things clearer than the truth

Be lenient with honesty


Keyes, Ralph. 2004. The Post-truth Era. St. Martin’s Press. N.Y. pg.15-16.

The Energy Cliff Revisited

22 10 2014

Gough Whitlam died yesterday.  The whole country seems to have paused for thought, many media outlets are even saying things like “where to from here”, and the cluelessness abounds.  Where to from here indeed……  Today, our politicians are elected to office based on false promises.  They promise things they can’t deliver, and we continue to be perpetually shocked when they don’t deliver.  We never seem to get tired of this game, we always lose.

I have spent little time posting here, mainly for fear of simply repeating myself.  As I am doing now, really…. but once you ‘get it’, what else is there to say?  As the price of oil fell to $80 last week, much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth occurred on the subject of how long the unconventional oil drillers of oil would last….  while some commentators were despairing at the thought that cheaper fossil fuels would mean the end of the current push for renewables, if you can still call it that.

When I pointed out to these people that the fossil fuel companies were actually going broke, I was met with the derision I am now accustomed to.  I’m getting quite immune to that now, if you don’t believe me, it’s your problem, not mine…  mind you, as we approach ‘the knee’ of the energy cliff curve, it is baffling as to why the price of oil dropped so much, when it should have in fact risen, and risen substantially.  The answer of course is that the global economy is on its knees.  Growth is fetid at best, and in Europe, things are going from bad to worse, even prompting some people to predict that ‘the big one’ was going to occur on the 27th anniversary of the Black Monday crash.  Didn’t happen, unfortunately…..  but the ducks have all lined up in waiting.

Most of us here have surely heard of the seven stages of grief…. Shock, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Guilt, Depression, Acceptance. Where are we in our journey through these stages when it come to the financial crisis, and to growth? There’s only one stage that even remotely sounds right: Denial. We’re not even close to Anger yet, not when it comes to the larger population.  Me, I’d like to add another stage:  REACTION….!

justwalkawayIf enough people just walked away, the whole mess would end.  Any time people post whinges on FB these days, I reply with that picture.

Apart from denial, there is of course ignorance.  The concept of the energy cliff is foreign to just about anyone who doesn’t follow blogs such as this one.  It occurred to me that we have been sliding down the edges of the energy cliff for a very long time.  At the beginning of the oil era, when the ERoEI was 100:1, everything was easy.  We just had to invent it, and we had so much surplus energy that we could fumble our way around and build outrageous cars and airplanes, steel skyscrapers, huge ships, growth was easy…..  and when the ERoEI of oil dropped to 50:1, who noticed?  We still had 100:1 oil to make the equipment needed to get that oil (which, let’s face it, was still amazing value…)

As the easy pickings were exploited, it was still easy to burn 25:1 and even 15:1 energy sources…. but it is at this stage that we approach ‘the knee’ of the nett energy curve, and start falling off its cliff.

Building 5:1 solar energy gizmos with 15:1 oil, let alone with more 5:1 PVs or those appallingly inefficient tar sands and shale oil suddenly becomes a struggle.  This is what people who argue that we don’t need fossil fuels to make renewables do not understand.  Bad ERoEI compounds when you use one low source to get another.  Social complexity utterly relies on surplus energy.  It was with surplus energy that Europe’s cathedrals were build during the middle ages, and the same applies to building wind and solar farms.

If you are new to these concepts, I urge you to watch the video below from Chris Martenson’s excellent crash course series, a must watch program of videos for anyone who doesn’t yet know why the world is going to hell in a handbasket……  NOTE:  This video shows solar as having an ERoEI somewhere around 20:1.  This is because it was made in 2009, and in the intervening 5 years, it has been established that it is fact less than 5…. maybe even less than 3!  This is displayed more accurately in the more recent chart above……

Big Oil stocks to crash 50% by 2020

27 04 2014

Hot on the heels of Steven Kopits’ presentation, this gem turns up on the Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch website…..

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. (MarketWatch) — Yes, we see 10 early warnings that Big Oil stocks are going to trigger an economic collapse by 2020, maybe 50% as gas (Petrol to you Aussies..) prices go through your SUV’s sunroof.

1. Big Oil’s conspiracy is a fracking, cracking Zen moment …

Reuters recently reported that Rex Tillerson became a party in a local lawsuit opposing a planned new water tower near his $5 million retirement ranch. Yes, that Tillerson, Exxon Mobil’s $40-million-a-year CEO. His neighbors say this eyesore will affect property values. Even Forbes’ Rick Unger couldn’t resist a dig: “The hypocrisy expressed in real life is so sublimely rich that one could never hope to construct a similar scenario out of pure imagination.” Tillerson is signaling a subtle lesson here for Big Oil as more states follow Ohio’s lead, discover there’s a real scientific link between fracking and earthquakes.

2. The bliss of delusional denial when Big Oil profits peak, slide, collapse

“Even with the most optimistic set of assumptions — the ending of deforestation, a halving of emissions associated with food production, global emissions peaking in 2020 and then falling by 3% a year for a few decades — we have no chance of preventing emissions rising well above a number of critical tipping points that will spark uncontrollable climate change,” warns Clive Hamilton, Australian economist in “Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth about Climate Change.” Soon “the Earth’s climate will enter a chaotic era … One thing seems certain: there will be far fewer of us.” What? Me worry?

3. Unprecedented profits on a road to irreversible self-destruction

The world has “1.4 trillion barrels of oil, enough to last at least 200 years,” says CEO Tom Donohue of the Big Oil-funded U. S. Chamber of Commerce Yes, 200 years of oil. Too bad it’ll kill us in 50 years, says environmental economist Bill McKibben in Rolling Stone. Why? “We have five times as much oil and coal and gas on the books as climate scientists think is safe to burn.” More will overheat Planet Earth. And over in Foreign Policy a resigned McKibben adds, “Act now, we’re told, if we want to save the planet from a climate catastrophe. Trouble is, it might be too late. The science is settled, and the damage has already begun.” The planet is on an “irreversible self-destruct path.”

4. Capitalism’s last, blind race to waste every bit of Planet Earth

Michael Klare warns in “The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources,” that “The world is facing an unprecedented crisis of resource depletion — a crisis that goes beyond ‘peak oil’ to encompass shortages of coal and uranium, copper and lithium, water and arable land. With all of the planet’s easily accessible resource deposits rapidly approaching exhaustion, the desperate hunt for supplies has become a frenzy of extreme exploration, as governments and corporations rush to stake their claims in areas previously considered too dangerous or remote.” Worse, “the race we are on today is the last of its kind that we are likely to undertake.”

5. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin: ‘You promised me Mars colonies, I got Facebook’

We’re not even trying to solve the big problems of the future, warns Jason Pontin editor-in-chief of the MIT Tech Review in “Why We Can’t Solve Big Problems.” Reason: Because our leaders kowtow to myopic science deniers and Big Oil billionaires with zero moral conscience. America’s lost the ability to think long-term, lacks think-big leaders. And Silicon Valley’s leading innovators prefer social media problems like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Farmville and X-Prize PR hits, while Big Pharma solves the world’s great erectile-dysfunction pandemic.

6. Big Macs in 2014, but in 2050 Earth can’t feed predicted 10 billion

Yes, the future is bleak. Fortunately, denial is a great tranquilizer. Jeremy Grantham’s GMO firm manages $117 billion. Research at his Grantham Institute for Climate Change tells us Earth can’t feed the 10 billion people predicted in 2050, three billion more than today: “As the population continues to grow, we will be stressed by recurrent shortages of hydrocarbons, metals, water and, especially, fertilizer. Our global agriculture, though, will clearly bear the greatest stresses,” a burden on productivity.

7. Soon we’ll need six planets to survive, even with no new little babies

In “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail of Succeed,” anthropologist Jared Diamond says “what really counts is not the number of people alone, but their impact on the environment.” Developed nations consume 32 times more resources, dump 32 times more waste than do undeveloped nations. If all 7 billion inhabitants of the planet consumed resources at America’s level, we’d need the resources of six Earths to survive” today!

8. Yes, humans are the new dinosaurs, building our own ‘Jurassic Park’

Writing in American Scholar Nobel physicist Robert Laughlin’s “The Earth Doesn’t Care If You Drive a Hybrid!” Or recycle. Or eat organic food. Or live in a green house powered by solar energy: “Earth didn’t replace the dinosaurs after they died” in the last great species extinction 65 million years ago, she “just moved on, became something different.” Laughlin says “humans have already triggered the sixth great period of species extinction in Earth’s history,” buying gas guzzlers, investing in Big Oil, forever in denial of the widening gap between endless growth and more babies living on a planet of vanishing resources.

9. Paradox: Yes, economic growth is accelerating the death of capitalism

Underlying many dark predictions of 2050 is our narcissistic self-destructive ideology of capitalism. In Foreign Policy, Yale’s Immanuel Wallerstein put the 2008 crash in context: “The Global Economy Won’t Recover, Now or Ever.” Our “capitalist world economy has been in existence for some 500 years … functioned remarkably well. But like all systems, it has moved … too far from equilibrium.” Now the only real “political struggle is over what kind of system will replace capitalism, not whether it should survive.” So what, me worry?

10. Capitalism’s doomsday cycle oblivious of bigger crash than 1929

After the last meltdown, former IMF chief economist Simon Johnson and Peter Boone co-authored “The Doomsday Cycle Turns: Who’s Next?” In one short generation “we have built a financial system that threatens to topple our global economic order.” We let “an unsustainable and crazy doomsday cycle infiltrate our economic system.” But this doomsday “cycle will not run forever,” they warn. “The destructive power of the down cycle will overwhelm the restorative ability of the government, just like it did in 1929-31.” In 2008 “we came remarkably close to another Great Depression. Next time, we may not be so lucky.” Since then Johnson, co-wrote the best-seller: “13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown.”

Fortunately, you’ll never see it coming. Denial really is a wonder-drug tranquilizer. So why worry, lighten up. Focus on the Wall Street banker in Mankoff’s cartoon. Meditate, his bullish guidance will lift your spirits: “While the end-of-the-world scenario will be rife with unimaginable horrors, we believe that the pre-end period will be filled with unprecedented opportunities for profit.” And so it is … for today … until Big Oil stocks start plunging …

Paul B. Farrell is a MarketWatch columnist based in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Follow him on Twitter @MKTWFarrell.

The Denial Beast

9 03 2014

Just goes to show, there are some honest politicians, even in the USA.


“There is no time”

12 12 2013

The Fire This Time


A guest post by Dave Pollard



A few days ago I watched the documentary Chasing Ice, as part of our local Transition initiative’s film series. What really struck me in the film was the narrator’s four word comment about 1/3 through the film when he was discussing what we can/should do about arctic melting and runaway climate change:

“There is no time.”

Just that. He meant that there is no time for us to continue to do what we have been doing — the politicking, stalling, denial, endless debate and research. But what these four words mean to me, and I think at a visceral and perhaps subconscious level what they now mean to many people who are informed about what is happening in our world, is that there is no time for us to pull back from collapse, no time to avoid or even mitigate runaway climate change and the emergence, later this century, of a climate on Earth as different (7-8oC) from today’s (though in the opposite direction) as the climate during the most recent glacial maxima (colloquially, “Ice Ages”) 20 and 140 and 260 and 340 and 440 thousand years ago.

During these “Ice Ages” much of the planet’s land mass was covered in ice an average of 2 km thick, and the regions adjacent to the ice-covered areas suffered constant windstorms that transformed them into scrub and desert, and beyond that desert, what are now semi-tropical areas were covered in boreal forest. Equatorial areas then, in addition to being much cooler than today, see-sawed between prolonged periods of monsoon-like rains and periods of extended drought.

What will our planet be like with 7-8 degrees of warming in the next few decades? Weather will likely be more extreme (more flooding, desertification and fires, and, later, much higher sea levels) and much more turbulent, but instead of only the equatorial areas being habitable by significant human numbers, as happened during the “Ice Ages”, only the polar areas, with whatever vegetation will have emerged there in that short time, will likely be habitable in the coming “Fire Age”.

The Fire This Time.

There is no time for us to avert this. But there is time to imagine potential future scenarios and how we might react to them, to increase our resilience to the large-scale changes to our way of living it will bring, and to prepare ourselves for them (intellectually, emotionally, and capacity-wise that is — for the coming Long Emergency, hoarding assets and building bunkers is not a viable strategy).

What complicates the future scenario for our planet is that we are also nearing End Games in our global economic and energy/resource systems, as I diagrammed in my post last month. Neither system is sustainable for more than a few more years, a few decades at most, and both systems affect the rate of atmospheric pollution and hence the extent and timing of runaway climate change.

I’m writing a series of articles that explains all this in more detail for the fledgling Sustainability Showcase magazine, but the chart above summarizes the interrelationship of our economic, resource/energy, and climate/ecological systems, and how ‘collapse’ (i.e. dramatic and uncontrolled unbalancing and change, with largely unpredictable consequences) of any of these systems would likely affect the other two. Here’s the prognosis in a nutshell:

 Best case (Eisenstein) scenario: Shift to Sharing Economy precipitates near-term, gradual collapse of the industrial growth economy, which will leave some of Earth’s energy and resources in the ground and delay and slightly lessen runaway climate change. [Or similarly, major early unexpected impacts of climate change (e.g. pandemic) precipitate near-term, gradual economic collapse, with the same results.]

Worst case (Ehrenfeld) scenario: Politicians ratchet up the economy to extend industrial growth a little longer, exhaust energy and other resources faster and more completely, then use nukes to try to mitigate energy exhaustion, all leading to faster and more severe runaway climate change and total economic collapse and energy/resource exhaustion.

All scenarios end with runaway climate change. This is kind of hard to comprehend, but once you realize how delicate the balance is that has kept our planet in a brief paradisiacal near-stasis climate for several millennia, and how often runaway climate change has happened in our planet’s past (for many reasons, mostly unknown), it’s not too hard to accept. We’ve just unwittingly accelerated the process this time.

There will be large scale species extinction — it’s already begun and it’s also not a new phenomenon on this planet. Life will go on. Some like it hot. There will be a steady exodus toward the poles by many species, with varying degrees of success. What will evolve in the planet’s new super-hot, super-stormy zones is anyone’s guess.

From that perspective, the timing of the collapse of this civilization’s unstable, global, oil-and-growth dependent industrial economy, and whether we plunder the last of the easily-accessible energy, soil, water, minerals, forests and other resources (a billion years’ worth of accumulated riches) before the climate destabilizes, may seem a bit moot. But it will be very important for our immediate descendants, and for many living today.

As the table above shows, we have little say in (or control over) how all this unfolds. But we have a little. The sooner we bring down our rapacious and wasteful economy, the less severe and longer delayed ecological collapse will be — and the more resources will be left for post-collapse life.

We can (and some say should) help precipitate that economic take-down, through direct action against its most grievous activities — tar sands, nukes, deepwater, shale, mountaintop removal, rainforest razing, ‘blood’ mining, factory farming, forced/slave labour etc. And we can precipitate it by walking away from that teetering economy and shifting our activities to that of the sharing economy — by using, gifting and conserving local, organic, low-energy, durable goods and services in community with each other, without the use of fiat currencies.

Beyond that, there’s not much we can do to prepare for The Fire This Time, except learn some useful new skills, learn how to build (and live in) community (anywhere), get and stay healthy, and cultivate what we might call a resilient, adaptable attitude. Some of the qualities I think might be part of such an ‘attitude’ — a way of being in the world — are (in no particular order) being:

  • generous
  • self-aware and self-knowledgeable
  • attentive (“present”)
  • curious and imaginative (they’re not the same thing)
  • able to let go (open, forgiving, patient, even ‘stoic’)
  • challenging (able to think critically)
  • self-expressive and articulate
  • appreciative and grateful
  • playful, joyful, and able to see beauty everywhere
  • able to relish simple pleasures
  • contemplative, gentle, and at peace

We can’t be these things if we’re not, of course, and the stresses of our modern lives make it hard to be them. But, joyful pessimist that I am, I believe most of these qualities are in most of our natures, if we can find space for them, and let them come out. Adversity tends to bring out the best in us, and we’re now in the headwinds of a maelstrom.

It’s hopeless, but we’ll be fine. One day, everything will be free.