The Myth of Human Progress

5 06 2016

After reading this excellent article, you will know why I admire Chris Hedges so much……

Posted on Jan 13, 2013 on the Truthdig website





By Chris Hedges

chrishedgesClive Hamilton in his “Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change” describes a dark relief that comes from accepting that “catastrophic climate change is virtually certain.” This obliteration of “false hopes,” he says, requires an intellectual knowledge and an emotional knowledge. The first is attainable. The second, because it means that those we love, including our children, are almost certainly doomed to insecurity, misery and suffering within a few decades, if not a few years, is much harder to acquire. To emotionally accept impending disaster, to attain the gut-level understanding that the power elite will not respond rationally to the devastation of the ecosystem, is as difficult to accept as our own mortality. The most daunting existential struggle of our time is to ingest this awful truth—intellectually and emotionally—and continue to resist the forces that are destroying us.

The human species, led by white Europeans and Euro-Americans, has been on a 500-year-long planetwide rampage of conquering, plundering, looting, exploiting and polluting the Earth—as well as killing the indigenous communities that stood in the way. But the game is up. The technical and scientific forces that created a life of unparalleled luxury—as well as unrivaled military and economic power—for the industrial elites are the forces that now doom us. The mania for ceaseless economic expansion and exploitation has become a curse, a death sentence. But even as our economic and environmental systems unravel, after the hottest year in the contiguous 48 states since record keeping began 107 years ago, we lack the emotional and intellectual creativity to shut down the engine of global capitalism. We have bound ourselves to a doomsday machine that grinds forward, as the draft report of the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee illustrates.

Complex civilizations have a bad habit of destroying themselves. Anthropologists including Joseph Tainter in “The Collapse of Complex Societies,” Charles L. Redman in “Human Impact on Ancient Environments” and Ronald Wright in “A Short History of Progress” have laid out the familiar patterns that lead to systems breakdown. The difference this time is that when we go down the whole planet will go with us. There will, with this final collapse, be no new lands left to exploit, no new civilizations to conquer, no new peoples to subjugate. The long struggle between the human species and the Earth will conclude with the remnants of the human species learning a painful lesson about unrestrained greed and self-worship.

“There is a pattern in the past of civilization after civilization wearing out its welcome from nature, overexploiting its environment, overexpanding, overpopulating,” Wright said when I reached him by phone at his home in British Columbia, Canada. “They tend to collapse quite soon after they reach their period of greatest magnificence and prosperity. That pattern holds good for a lot of societies, among them the Romans, the ancient Maya and the Sumerians of what is now southern Iraq. There are many other examples, including smaller-scale societies such as Easter Island. The very things that cause societies to prosper in the short run, especially new ways to exploit the environment such as the invention of irrigation, lead to disaster in the long run because of unforeseen complications. This is what I called in ‘A Short History of Progress’ the ‘progress trap.’ We have set in motion an industrial machine of such complexity and such dependence on expansion that we do not know how to make do with less or move to a steady state in terms of our demands on nature. We have failed to control human numbers. They have tripled in my lifetime. And the problem is made much worse by the widening gap between rich and poor, the upward concentration of wealth, which ensures there can never be enough to go around. The number of people in dire poverty today—about 2 billion—is greater than the world’s entire population in the early 1900s. That’s not progress.”

“If we continue to refuse to deal with things in an orderly and rational way, we will head into some sort of major catastrophe, sooner or later,” he said. “If we are lucky it will be big enough to wake us up worldwide but not big enough to wipe us out. That is the best we can hope for. We must transcend our evolutionary history. We’re Ice Age hunters with a shave and a suit. We are not good long-term thinkers. We would much rather gorge ourselves on dead mammoths by driving a herd over a cliff than figure out how to conserve the herd so it can feed us and our children forever. That is the transition our civilization has to make. And we’re not doing that.”

Wright, who in his dystopian novel “A Scientific Romance” paints a picture of a future world devastated by human stupidity, cites “entrenched political and economic interests” and a failure of the human imagination as the two biggest impediments to radical change. And all of us who use fossil fuels, who sustain ourselves through the formal economy, he says, are at fault.

Modern capitalist societies, Wright argues in his book “What Is America?: A Short History of the New World Order,” derive from European invaders’ plundering of the indigenous cultures in the Americas from the 16th to the 19th centuries, coupled with the use of African slaves as a workforce to replace the natives. The numbers of those natives fell by more than 90 percent because of smallpox and other plagues they hadn’t had before. The Spaniards did not conquer any of the major societies until smallpox had crippled them; in fact the Aztecs beat them the first time around. If Europe had not been able to seize the gold of the Aztec and Inca civilizations, if it had not been able to occupy the land and adopt highly productive New World crops for use on European farms, the growth of industrial society in Europe would have been much slower. Karl Marx and Adam Smith both pointed to the influx of wealth from the Americas as having made possible the Industrial Revolution and the start of modern capitalism. It was the rape of the Americas, Wright points out, that triggered the orgy of European expansion. The Industrial Revolution also equipped the Europeans with technologically advanced weapons systems, making further subjugation, plundering and expansion possible.

“The experience of a relatively easy 500 years of expansion and colonization, the constant taking over of new lands, led to the modern capitalist myth that you can expand forever,” Wright said. “It is an absurd myth. We live on this planet. We can’t leave it and go somewhere else. We have to bring our economies and demands on nature within natural limits, but we have had a 500-year run where Europeans, Euro-Americans and other colonists have overrun the world and taken it over. This 500-year run made it not only seem easy but normal. We believe things will always get bigger and better. We have to understand that this long period of expansion and prosperity was an anomaly. It has rarely happened in history and will never happen again. We have to readjust our entire civilization to live in a finite world. But we are not doing it, because we are carrying far too much baggage, too many mythical versions of deliberately distorted history and a deeply ingrained feeling that what being modern is all about is having more. This is what anthropologists call an ideological pathology, a self-destructive belief that causes societies to crash and burn. These societies go on doing things that are really stupid because they can’t change their way of thinking. And that is where we are.”

And as the collapse becomes palpable, if human history is any guide, we like past societies in distress will retreat into what anthropologists call “crisis cults.” The powerlessness we will feel in the face of ecological and economic chaos will unleash further collective delusions, such as fundamentalist belief in a god or gods who will come back to earth and save us.

“Societies in collapse often fall prey to the belief that if certain rituals are performed all the bad stuff will go away,” Wright said. “There are many examples of that throughout history. In the past these crisis cults took hold among people who had been colonized, attacked and slaughtered by outsiders, who had lost control of their lives. They see in these rituals the ability to bring back the past world, which they look at as a kind of paradise. They seek to return to the way things were. Crisis cults spread rapidly among Native American societies in the 19th century, when the buffalo and the Indians were being slaughtered by repeating rifles and finally machine guns. People came to believe, as happened in the Ghost Dance, that if they did the right things the modern world that was intolerable—the barbed wire, the railways, the white man, the machine gun—would disappear.”

“We all have the same, basic psychological hard wiring,” Wright said. “It makes us quite bad at long-range planning and leads us to cling to irrational delusions when faced with a serious threat. Look at the extreme right’s belief that if government got out of the way, the lost paradise of the 1950s would return. Look at the way we are letting oil and gas exploration rip when we know that expanding the carbon economy is suicidal for our children and grandchildren. The results can already be felt. When it gets to the point where large parts of the Earth experience crop failure at the same time then we will have mass starvation and a breakdown in order. That is what lies ahead if we do not deal with climate change.”

“If we fail in this great experiment, this experiment of apes becoming intelligent enough to take charge of their own destiny, nature will shrug and say it was fun for a while to let the apes run the laboratory, but in the end it was a bad idea,” Wright said.


Richard Wolff on the coming crash…….

30 05 2015

Of course, zero mention of Limits to Growth here………

Australia headed for energy crisis……

12 07 2014

The news coming in regarding Australia’s energy security are getting more and more worrisome.  Add to that the fact we will soon be totally out of oil, and you have to wonder “what next?”.  We are seemingly led by total morons who have no idea what they are doing, consider money to be far more valuable than energy, and in the process are leading this country to rack and ruin…..  How long we have left before all our chickens come home to roost is anyone’s guess, but the mining industry is already starting to sack people (and we haven’t even hit Peak Mining yet..), [official] unemployment is back up to 6%, and it’s high time the people of Australia got rid of the idiots in charge…..

Matt Mushalik

Matt Mushalik

Energy Super Power Australia’s East Coast running low on affordable domestic gas

In July 2006 then Prime Minister Howard declared Australia an energy super power. 2 years earlier his energy white paper set the framework for unlimited gas exports while neglecting to set aside gas for domestic use. It is a bitter irony that at the 10th anniversary of this energy white paper we read that gas shortages in the Eastern market will result in price increases and that there is not even enough cheap gas for gas fired power plants which are supposed to replace dirty coal fired plants or serve as a back-up for renewable power. Wrong decisions a decade ago (or even earlier) now come to the attention of the public as price rises hit the pockets of consumers.

And what has been completely forgotten is that natural gas is the only alternative transport fuel to replace oil. Conventional oil peaked in 2006 (Yes, Prime Minister, under your watch), US shale oil is likely to peak before 2020 and the Middle East is disintegrating in front of our TV eyes faster than energy and transport planners can change their perpetual-growth mindset. An energy equivalent of 5 LNG trains is needed to replace all oil based fuels in Australia. This gas is locked away in long term export contracts. Well done. Les jeux sont faits.

(1)          Recent events

Electricity providers return to coal-fired power as natural gas export revenue soars

The rising international price of natural gas is causing electricity providers to return to coal-fired power, with Queensland among the first to make the move.

Fig 1: Tarong power station in Queensland

University of Queensland energy analyst Dr Liam Wagner says the rising price will push other power companies to make similar decisions.

“Gas-fired electricity is becoming more expensive; gas in Australia is going to become more expensive with exports,” he said.

“In the future we’re going to have less gas because it’ll be far more expensive to burn it here and the gas producers will be able to make more money overseas.”

Nation will be paying the bill for poor energy policy

The government, unlike other governments around the world, allowed unfettered access to global markets. The building of the export gas terminals will push the prices for gas inexorably up towards world prices. Indeed, wholesale gas prices are widely forecast to more than double to match international prices.

Many in the gas industry are calling for the rapid development of environmentally suspect coal seam gas fields in NSW to counter higher prices. This policy simply will not work as prices on the East Coast are now linked to world prices. No amount of domestic production will change this dynamic.

As we can see in the following report, AGL is proud to have connected the domestic market to the Asian market to make quick profits, instead of developing a plan which would use gas domestically in the medium and long-term to maximise economic benefits for the local industry. The quarry mentality continues. The expected shortages are presented as an argument for even more coal seam gas.

AGL raises spectre of gas rationing if gas shortages are not tackled, it tells the NSW Government

Gas shortages will lead to rationing along with job losses, especially in Sydney’s west, energy utility AGL has warned as it intensifies pressure on the NSW government to allow the development of gas projects in the state that tap gas trapped in coal seams.

This is the report:

AGL Applied Economic and Policy Research

Solving for ‘x’ – the New South Wales Gas Supply Cliff

March  2014

“During this discovery and appraisal phase, it was evidently clear to resource owners that the east coast gas market was not sufficiently large enough to enable the monetisation of reserves in suitable timeframes and at the scale necessary to maximise profit, and so developing an export market for natural gas in the form of LNG was a logical strategic solution. Not only would it result in the rapid expansion of aggregate demand, but would also have the benefit of linking domestic gas prices, historically ca $3 per gigajoule (/GJ), to the north Asian export market price of ca $6-9/GJ equivalent ex-field ‘netback price’ over the medium term(p 2)

“On Australia’s east coast over the period 2013-2016, we forecast that aggregate demand for natural gas will increase three-fold, from 700 PJ to 2,100 PJ per annum, while our forecast of system coincident peak demand increases 2.4 times, from 2,790 TJ to 6,690 TJ per day. This extraordinary growth is being driven by the development of three Liquefied Natural Gas plants at Gladstone, Queensland”.  (p 1)

“Almost simultaneously, a non-trivial quantity of existing domestic gas contracts currently supplying NSW will mature. Much of that gas has been recontracted to LNG producers in Queensland – thus creating a gas supply cliff in NSW. Compounding matters, recent policy developments have placed binding constraints over the development of new gas supplies in NSW”(p 1)

Fig 3: NSW gas supply cliff lead to price increases

These developments are a bitter irony given that the public has been told many times that Australia’s gas resources are abundant. All LNG export contracts were presented as great achievements.

(2)  Wrong decisions 12 years ago

Although LNG exports to Japan had started in 1989 (20 years contracts with 8 power and utility companies signed in 1985), the 2002 LNG deal with China was Howard’s first main contribution towards a poor energy policy.

Australia Wins China LNG Contract

John Howard: “I am delighted to announce that today I have been advised by the Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji that Australia’s Northwest Shelf Venture has been chosen by China to be the sole supplier of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to its first LNG project in Guangdong province.”

5 months earlier, John Akehurst, Woodside’s Managing Director, warned in a report with mixed messages:

Mar 2002

Challenges for Australia

Australia has large gas reserves which have the potential to meet a much larger proportion of Australia’s energy requirements, including liquid petroleum requirements (via CNG, LNG, Gas to Liquids). Gas for oil substitution would deliver significant greenhouse benefits and help Australia meet its Kyoto target. Increased LNG exports would partly offset the cost of rising liquids imports and help address their impact on the balance of payments.  (p 8 )

However, greater use of gas will require substantially more investment in gas production and pipeline infrastructure. Without such investment, south eastern Australian gas markets will, within a few years, face possible gas shortages. Major consumers will find it more difficult to secure long term supply contracts on sufficiently competitive terms (p 9)

Fig 4: Superimposition Akehurst forecast with actual production

LNG export projects and gas-based value adding projects are needed to underpin the cost of bringing new gas supply sources to shore and to justify the initial investment. These types of projects compete on world markets (primarily with projects in Asia) and the provision of an internationally competitive investment environment including fiscal terms is a key driver. (p 10)

Of course one cannot have it both ways. To replace petrol and diesel in Australia one would need the energy equivalent of 5 LNG trains.

(3)          Howard’s flawed Energy White Paper June 2004

Fig 5: excerpt from Howard’s June 2004 energy white paper

This white paper just rationalises decisions already made earlier by formulating following policy principles  (p 53)

  • Commercial decisions should determine the nature and timing of energy resource developments, with government interventions being transparent and allowing commercial interests to seek least-cost solutions to government objectives (e.g. environment, safety or good resource management objectives).
  • Government objectives should generally be driven by sector-wide policy mechanisms rather than impose inconsistent requirements on individual projects/private investors.

And on page 128:

Australia’s gas reserves are sufficient for more than 100 years at current production levels, or more than 200 years of current domestic consumption. Furthermore, prospects for finding and proving up more gas are good, subject to finding markets. However, the location of Australia’s major gas reserves—to the north and north-west —compared with major demand locations—to the south-east—is sometimes raised as an issue (see Figure 6 and 3 in Chapter 2—Developing Australia’s Energy Resources).”

Note the term “At current production levels” which of course is irrelevant when LNG exports are doubled or tripled.

Fig 6: Map of oil and gas resources in the EWP 2004

Fig 7: Map of gas pipelines in EWP 2004

The Geoscience Report “Oil and Gas Resources in Australia 2004 writes: Natural gas has a current “life” estimated at 65 years, but past estimates have been as low as 39 years (in 1993) and as high as 76 years (in 2001). These estimates include all resources and production in the JPDA with Timor-Leste.”

Fig 8: Geoscience Australia’s reserve to production ratios

The EWP 2004 continues to argue:

“Predictions are made that supplies of gas to major urban markets will run short in the next decade, as production in the Cooper Basin and Bass Strait declines. This has resulted in calls for financial support towards the building of major pipelines from either the Northern Territory (to access gas from Sunrise and other Timor Sea fields), Papua New Guinea or north-west Australia (to access gas from either Carnarvon or Browse Basins). While reserves of gas in existing fields close to southeast markets are declining, this does not represent an energy security concern.

Exploration is occurring in the south-east and is resulting in new discoveries and development, such as in the Otway Basin. The development of coal seam methane is also increasing supplies of gas in the region. In addition, holders of the large remotely located gas reserves are actively seeking markets to monetise these reserves. These efforts include actively investigating pipeline projects for bringing supplies of gas from north and north-west sources, as well as seeking LNG export sales in Asian markets. The number and activity of these competing proposals provide a degree of confidence that these supplies will become available once economic, noting that this will in all likelihood occur at higher price levels than those currently enjoyed in some south-eastern markets.

Given the size and placement of gas reserves relative to current and future gas demand, gas supply is not likely to become an issue for the short to medium term. Pre-empting market outcomes in these circumstances is unlikely to add significantly to energy security, but could inflict significant costs by precluding less costly options (such as further development of the Gippsland and Otway basins or coal seam methane).”

The task of building North/West-East gas pipelines was not pro-actively followed up by State and Federal governments but dropped altogether in favour of exports. No wonder this laissez-faire approach went wrong.

CO2 emissions

The EWP 2004 argues:

“The shape of future international action on climate change is unclear, but the potential costs of future adjustments and long life of energy assets makes it prudent to prepare for the future.” ( p 131)

LNG development could increase Australia’s energy emissions by around 1 per cent of energy sector emissions. However, to the extent that exported Australian gas replaces more greenhouse intensive energy in the importing country, global emissions may decrease as a result of Australian gas production  (p 137)

This is just an argument in favour of LNG exports while none of the LNG contracts included a clause that coal fired power plants equivalent to the energy content of the gas should be decommissioned in the destination country. The above example of Queensland going back to coal shows that not even in Australia the job of using gas to reduce emissions is taken seriously.

(4) Energy super power declared in 2006

The Prime Minister has outlined his vision for energy and water, saying the nation has the makings of an energy superpower.

(5) Actual gas production

Let’s have a look at gas production statistics

Fig 9: Australia’s gas production 1977-2013

 Data are from APPEA:

We see peak gas in the Cooper basin between 1999 and 2002 at around 260 bcf. Right at that peak, Howard failed to pursue building a gas pipeline to connect Western offshore gas with Eastern gas markets.  While LNG exports on the West coast surged, the East coast remained on a bumpy production plateau.  Western Australia has a 15% Domgas policy but also did not introduce gas as a transport fuel. As WA’s LNG gas goes out the window, Queensland and NSW are forced to go for environmentally questionable coal seam gas.

Fig 10: Australia’s LNG exports

The first 3 trains (2.5 mt pa each) mainly supply Japanese utilities, while the Guangdong contract (3.3 mt pa over 25 years) required train 4 (4.4 mt pa)

(6) Conventional gas depletion in NSW, Victoria and South Australia

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) estimates in its Gas Statement of Opportunities 2013 that current conventional 2P reserves would be depleted by the mid of the next decade.

Fig 10: Depletion of conventional gas reserves (2P) in the South East

“Under the modelled production-cost conditions, consumption of Denison Trough 2P reserves occurs first in 2019. Consumption of Otway Basin 2P reserves begins in 2020, and it is completely consumed by 2023. Bass and Cooper basin conventional 2P reserves are consumed in 2025. Gippsland 2P reserves are consumed in 2026. The 2P CSG reserves in Queensland are sufficient to supply demand until the end of the 20-year outlook period.”

Fig 11: Gas shortfalls in the South East

 “Additional 3P reserves and 2C resources are available in the Otway, Bass, Gippsland, and Cooper basins. The 3P/2C reserves in the Bass, Gippsland, and Cooper basins are sufficient to ensure supply until the end of the 20-year outlook period, provided current transmission and production limitations remain unchanged. The 3P/2C reserves in the Otway Basin are only sufficient to ensure supply until 2028 or 2029, depending on the level of support the southern states receive from production in the north.

Given its role in supplying demand in Adelaide, Melbourne, and Sydney, the Otway Basin reserves consumption is a significant event, with substantial infrastructure investment required to manage changing system flows.”

(7) Domgas Alliance report

Australia Domestic Gas Policy Report (Nov 2012)

History has proven that countries with large resource endowment do not automatically gain an economic competitive advantage over countries that do not have such surplus endowment of resources. Exporting countries have to take the necessary precautions to avoid what are known to economists as the Natural Resource Curse and Dutch Disease. Australia’s large LNG export boom, that is well underway, has the capacity to trigger both of these symptoms and the subsequent regrets.

Gas resource rich countries rely on a comprehensive menu of interventions and gas regulations and policies in order to protect the national interest and the best interest of the general public regarding the use of indigenous gas production. Benchmarking illustrates that Australia does not manage its gas resources adequately to ensure that gas explorers and production companies operate in a manner that is consistent with a vibrant domestic gas market.

Gas resource rich countries, regions and continents generally export gas only after they first develop their own domestic gas market into a vibrant one that has very high gas consumption rates per capita and a high gas penetration in the total primary energy supply. To do otherwise destroys value and effectively de-industrialises the exporting region.

Australia needs to have sufficiently comprehensive policies and regulations in place in order to control and manage the export of raw commodities. Simply relying on market forces without comprehensive guidelines and controls to mitigate inequitable market power is one extreme while nationalising all resources is the other extreme. Neither of these scenarios has proven to serve the public interest very well.

(8) Gas price outlook

The following graph from the Eastern Australian Domestic Gas Market Study by BREE, Department of Industry, shows Energy Quest’s doubling of gas prices by the end of this decade.

Fig 12: Gas prices will double


Decisions on excessive LNG exports have been made more than 10 years ago and are irreversible. They continued ever since – irrespective of which State or Federal governments were in power –and will lead to yet more LNG exports.  Consumers will have to pay higher gas prices for having elected these governments.  Another regret will come in the next years when it becomes clear that gas is needed as transport fuel.

Fig 13: Glimpse into the future: truckies protest drive around  Canberra’s Capital Hill

Previous articles on this website on gas

9/5/2012    Queensland plans to export more than 10 times the gas NSW needs (part 3)

6/5/2012   Howard’s wrong decisions on offshore gas exports start to hit transport sector now

13/10/2011    NSW gas as transport fuel. Where are the plans?

11/10/2011   Australia’s natural gas squandered in LNG exports

Who owns what

23 10 2013

Did anyone else see Foreign Correspondent on ABC TV last night?  With waitresses earning $27 a week…?

Here’s a clip to watch…

And here’s a great clip to put it all into perspective….

And another about why you are not free…

Have a nice day…