J.D. Alt: Have We Passed the Tipping Point of Biological Collapse?

Yves here. Readers regularly debate issues of growth, groaf, and sustainability. This post makes an urgent case that we are farther along toward collapse, based on our consumption of biological resources, than most official sources acknowledge.

By J. D. Alt, author of The Architect Who Couldn’t Sing, available at Amazon.com or iBooks. Originally published at New Economic Perspectives.

alt1 The squiggle illustrated here may look like the Ebola virus, but it isn’t. The resemblance is just an eerie coincidence. It’s actually a graphical snapshot of the classic “Predator-Prey Model.” This mathematical exercise, first developed in the 1920s, serves as the introductory basis for a more recent NASA funded effort which produced—amidst a brief flurry of news and commentary last spring—the startling conclusion that a complete collapse of modern civilization may now be “irreversible.”

The NASA study involved the creation and running of a more elaborate model—HANDY (Human and Nature Dynamics)—which simulates the human consumption of naturally replenishing systems, as well as (intriguingly, given today’s news cycle) wealth and income inequality between two classes of citizens: “Elites” and “Commoners.” Now a new study, just released by the World Wildlife Fund, reports a grim statistic suggesting the abstract mathematics of the HANDY Model may be more than just a theoretical exercise. According to the WWF, in the last forty years—from 1970 to 2010—the Earth has lost over HALF (52%) of its wildlife population.


If you graph this wildlife population loss, it looks uncannily similar to the graph-line of “Nature” in the HANDY Model: a point is reached where, suddenly, after a steady rise, or a gradual equilibrium, the graph-line of “Nature’s” population changes direction and begins to plummet. What is startling about the HANDY Model is that when this happens, the human populations of “Elites” and “Commoners” continue to rise, crossing the falling graph-line of “Nature.” This is called “overshoot”—the point where the human population begins consuming “Nature’s” resources faster than “Nature” can replenish them. The human population, after some period of “overshoot,” begins (of necessity) to collapse as well. The population of “Commoners” collapses first because the “Elites” are able, for a period of time, to thrive on their “Wealth.” In some iterations of the model, “Nature” recovers after the “Elite” population finally base-lines; in other iterations “Nature” fails to recover at all—the world becomes simply a wasteland, like one of those planets we keep investigating to see if it ever supported life.

In addition to giving a dose of reality to the graph-lines of the HANDY Model, the WWF study calculates the degree of “overshoot” the human population is currently engaged in: According to the study, at present rates of consumption, human civilization requires 1.5 Earths to meet its needs. The NASA funded scientists were able to get their model to reach equilibrium (avoid collapse) by adjusting variables that significantly reduced consumption, but this proved difficult to achieve without also substantially reducing the inequality of wealth and income between the “Elites” and “Commoners.” Failing more often than not to avoid collapse, the NASA report dryly (and parenthetically) comments on what a suddenly falling graph-line for the human population would actually mean in everyday reality: “There are a variety of mechanisms which can reduce population when it exceeds carrying capacity, including everything from emigration, increased disease susceptibility and outright starvation, to breakdowns in social order and increased social violence, such as banditry, riots, rebellions, revolutions and wars.” If all that sounds familiar, keep this in mind: assuming we’re presently in the middle of our “overshoot,” we haven’t even gotten there yet.

It seems to me this poses a dilemma for the field of economics. As Keynes says (with such sudden clarity in the midst of his densely worded General Theory): “Consumption—to repeat the obvious—is the sole end and object of all economic activity.” How then are we to have “economic growth and prosperity” if we must—as the HANDY Model and WWF study are telling us—cut back our present consumption of natural resources? Modern Monetary Theory makes it clear that a sovereign government can issue fiat dollars to employ its citizens to accomplish virtually anything they’re capable of—so long as the real resources are available to be used. And the point is added that paying the citizens to accomplish these things gives them purchasing power to subsequently produce and consume things in the private economy, which contributes to a general economic prosperity. But now we have the problem that the building of that consumer power will inevitably result in an INCREASE in consumption—exactly the opposite of what we can see is required to avoid the collapse.

The questions that arise, then, are these: Can we create jobs and REDUCE our consumption of nature’s resources at the same time? Is it possible to increase our “standard of living” while consuming less of what nature must regenerate? Can we create world-wide full employment at a living wage without bringing on the collapse of the natural systems we’re embedded in and feeding on? And, finally, what is the meaning of “wealth” itself if we must reduce consumption rather than increase it?

This may sound like the old song “sustainability” that’s been played so many times now, for so many years, it’s gotten worn out. The reason I think it’s worn out, however, is because it was never properly composed in the first place. What the worn-out version of “sustainability” gave us to pursue was simply a continuation of what Keynes refers to as our “propensity to consume”—but doing it now “sustainably” with different energy sources and a new palette of materials. Thus we’ll drive electric cars, but we’ll still aspire to having two or even three of them in every driveway. We’ll continue stringing our housing communities all over the countryside with roads and freeways, but we’ll build the houses with wood from “managed” forests. We’ll generate our electricity with wind turbines, but we’ll still aspire to owning every electrical appliance that can be invented. If this idea of “sustainability” has produced what the WWF study is reporting, then it’s clearly an idea that’s not accomplishing what’s needed.

What has to be adjusted is not just our energy sources and building materials, but our “propensity of consume” itself. It’s important to note this does not mean we must reduce consumption in general, or even in aggregate. We need only reduce consumption with regard to non-renewable stocks and regenerative natural systems. There are many other kinds of consumption which can be increased (and even increased a great deal.) For example, we could consume a lot more of education, art, leisure, literature, music, craft-work, and care-giving. Wealth is still desirable to maximize the production and consumption of these and other things—and “employment” (human effort) is required to both produce the things themselves and provide the income to consume them.

What we need to imagine, I think, is a new kind of “prosperity”—one that combines a carefully limited consumption of nature’s regenerative resources with a robust consumption of human labor and creativity. And the most important of those creative efforts would be directed toward rebuilding the capacity of nature itself—and devising ways to “live” in that nature (and consume what it produces) without degrading it.

The best example of this I’ve come across is the no-tillage farming techniques developed by Masanobu Fukuoko, a Japanese plant pathologist turned experimental farmer who, before his death, came close to making the world realize that modern agriculture is a natural disaster. While mechanized growing systems have  enabled the production and consumption of food on an enormous scale, Fukuoko showed us they have also “consumed” the regenerative capacity of the most important layer of the biosphere: the soil. Beginning with the very act of tilling—which disrupts the subsurface culture of micro-organisms that make the soil “alive”, modern agriculture proceeds to to transform a complex, self-generating, incubator-of-life into a neutral “root medium” which must subsequently be saturated with chemicals to support plant growth. The plants themselves must then be genetically modified to better thrive in the chemical stew of the root medium that used to be soil.

What Fukuoko demonstrated was that it is possible to achieve “modern” yields of rice (and other grains and vegetables) without ever tilling the soil, flooding it with excessive irrigation, or administering it with chemical fertilizers, weed-killers, or pesticides of any kind. His techniques of food-growing eliminate the consumption of (a) fossil fuels for tractors, (b) steel and rubber for the tractors themselves, (c) chemical fertilizers, (d) chemical weed-killers and pesticides, and (e) excess irrigation. Most important, however, his methods actually replenish and increase the regenerative capability of the soil itself. Fukuoko’s agriculture also requires something that modern agribusiness has done its level best to eliminate: Farmers. Nor is Fukuoko’s farmer a back-breaking, toiling peasant: he is a philosopher who can sleep late if he wants, and who spends much of his time cooking fresh, seasonal food and entertaining visitors. That sounds like “prosperity” to me.

Three years ago I finished a novel (The Architect Who Couldn’t Sing) and put the following tag-line on the cover: “It’s too late now to save wild nature. What we can do, if we’re lucky, is give it room to save us.” At the time it seemed an appropriate intimation of the story. Now I think I’m beginning to see what it actually means. The HANDY graph we need to create is this:


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  1. proximity1

    “What has to be adjusted is not just our energy sources and building materials, but our “propensity of consume” itself. It’s important to note this does not mean we must reduce consumption in general, or even in aggregate. We need only reduce consumption with regard to non-renewable stocks and regenerative natural systems. There are many other kinds of consumption which can be increased (and even increased a great deal.) For example, we could consume a lot more of education, art, leisure, literature, music, craft-work, and care-giving. Wealth is still desirable to maximize the production and consumption of these and other things—and “employment” (human effort) is required to both produce the things themselves and provide the income to consume them.”

    Let’s be fair–those examples are not, properly speaking, consumption-growth. Instead, they’re various ways in which a person could direct the use of his time–spending more of it on any one or more interest necessarily implies that other interests shall suffer an equal reduction in the time spent on them.

    When we discuss consumables, we’re properly talking about material consumption–the use and exhaustion of material things, which, as population increases, has to increase as well in the aggregate. No matter what sort of social/economic arrangements you devise, at some point, those arrangements shall, unless the population is somehow limited to a sustainable level, reach a limit beyond which available material resources cannot be supplied. At that point, any increase in consumption by the existing population or the addition of just one more individual (note: human or non-human, since, ultimately, animals which consume compete for the resources they need to survive) will mean that some other individual(s) must do with less or if severe enough, do without altogether. It makes no difference whether the distribution of resources is completely fair and equal, at some point, unless the population growth ceases (not merely the rate of growth but the absolute growth, period) this limit shall be reached and beyond that there’s no increase without a corresponding decrease somewhere else.

    The pessimist that I am says that we (humans) need hardly worry about ever actually reaching such a point; though I’m convinced that the planet is already well and truly over-populated, we needn’t worry that this sci-fi scenario of the completely fully-populated-and-allocated material world shall ever arrive in our real world experience since, long before that, we’re much more likely to definitively settle our collective hash through the ample pursuit of our self-destructive follies. The point is that, if, by some miracle, we don’t do that, then we’ll obviously be faced eventually with a limit at which, no matter how thinly the bread is sliced, we cannot afford the addition of even one individual to the world’s population. Clever technological innovations, too, shall eventually reach their limits and the view offered here takes that fact into account where most others do not.

    All of this is adapted and drawn from my reading; whether I first found it in Jean-Jacques Salomon’s Une civilisation à hauts risques (2007) or his Le destin technologique (1994) or in one of Konrad Lorenz’s writings, I can’t now recall. But it was probably to one of these that I owe these views.

    1. Ben Johannson

      You’re thinking too much in paradigm: consumption is simply sales, regardless of what is sold.

      1. proximity1

        RE: “consumption is simply sales, regardless of what is sold”

        Whether that’s your view or, rather, a summary of the view you’re trying to attribute to me, I don’t “buy” it–pun intended. Nothing in what I wrote or what I am arguing even has to presuppose any purchase-and-sale transaction. The whole matter could be described without reference to any model of monetized economics. Assume, if you prefer, that there’s no money at all or even any barter and you may make the very same case and arguments. Here, consumption means simply and only material things used to some purpose by some creature. Nourishment, physical living-space, oxygen, water, shelter, etc.

        1. Eeyores enigma

          Good answer Prox.

          The issue is extraction of finite resources and the damage to the biosphere from the waste stream.

          The one and only way to solve this is to pay people to not consume and tax the hell out of those who do to pay for it.

          1. susan the other

            that would work if we had something of value to spend that money on – like good causes or the neighborhood garden –

        2. Amir S

          >>consumption is simply sales, regardless of what is sold.

          >Whether that’s your view or, rather…

          That’s the view of consumption as defined as a component of GDP, which is measured in $ (or € etc). GDP growth is what everyone is talking about when they talk about growth. It’s why Very Serious People argue that we cannot save the environment, cut greenhouse gases etc, it’s because it would reduce (GDP) growth.

          No-one in the mainstream measures consumption as amount of material consumed (e.g. as barrels of oil burned or acres of forest chopped down). We all use currency to measure consumption, and by that measure it doesn’t matter if you buy a new pair of shoes for $50 (material consumption) or spend that same $50 on going to a concert (consumption of soundwaves, a non-material good).

          If you’re arguing that we need less material consumption, then great, everyone agrees with you. Where it falls apart is when people don’t want to sacrifice economic growth, or jobs, or living standards in order to reduce material consumption. Or at least, certainly not their *own* living standards. So the message that it is possible to maintain economic growth, while reducing material consumption, i.e. demolishing the naysayers largest point of contention and reason for inaction, ought to be a welcome one.

          1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

            Another issue is the assumption that we will be happier with more GDP growth, ignoring the difference between GDP and GDP/capita, and implying that we are happier now than we were in, say 1962 or 1776.

            1. Amir S

              I agree that GDP is a poor measure of welfare or happiness, and there’s no shortage of articles pointing this out, and suggesting alternatives. But until people agree on the same alternative (or two), GDP is what we’ve got to work with if we’re to have any influence on mainstream thinking.

          2. proximiyt1

            Are you–or economists–seriously contending that the objects of our time-allocations as these may shift represent real and significant potentials for GDP-measured “growth ?

            Do you really mean to argue that, if I shift 90% of my time from watching television to listening to recordings of operatic music, that there’s been a 90% increase in some economically meaningful sense in “the consumption of operatic music? Shouldn’t we then, as good, and utterly daft economists, take due account of the corresponding fall in my television cable or broadcast consumption ?

            Suppose the recordings weren’t purchased, but borrowed or even just found in the attic? What if they were left to me by a grandparent?

            If a retired group of geezers spend more time playing Pétanque at their nearby garden, and correspondingly less time reading library-lent copies of Proust, are we to suppose that the consumption of Pétanque is “up” and, with it, something of GDP?

            I’ve now been told two or more times here to, in effect, “get back to economics” without anyone taking the least trouble to explain how and why these variable allocations in time-expenditure are economically meaningful representations of GDP-measureable growth. And, quite frankly, unless and until someone does that–with, at the very least, a pointer to the relevant explanatory texts–then please excuse me for telling you that I consider my intelligence is insulted.

            By the way, I note this, from the link you posted:

            Austrian School economist Frank Shostak has argued that GDP is an empty abstraction devoid of any link to the real world, and, therefore, has little or no value in economic analysis. Says Shostak:[29]

            The GDP framework cannot tell us whether final goods and services that were produced during a particular period of time are a reflection of real wealth expansion, or a reflection of capital consumption. For instance, if a government embarks on the building of a pyramid, which adds absolutely nothing to the well-being of individuals, the GDP framework will regard this as economic growth. In reality, however, the building of the pyramid will divert real funding from wealth-generating activities, thereby stifling the production of wealth.

            That is about as close as the article comes to even remotely addressing the point I was making about the allocation of time as a factor in GDP growth. No wonder so much about economics is regarded as derisable!

            By the way, RE this,

            “If you’re arguing that we need less material consumption, then great, everyone agrees with you.

            no, really, in fact not everyone agrees with that. Lots of important people think that we need more material consumption.

            1. Ben Johannson

              What part of “sales” don’t you get? Do you seriously think that human consume what they do because it’s natural for them to do so? That certainly appears to be the case which means you’re far more ignorant and naive than I would have anticipated. We consume and spend what we do because mass communication primes us to do so and therefore a shift in what is advertised for consumption will result in different spending patterns. All you’ve done is confuse “leisure” with “idleness”, a mistake you’d have avoided were the study of economics not beneath you.

              1. proximity1

                RE: “What part of “sales” don’t you get?”

                The part that meaningfully applies to this–

                “Have We Passed the Tipping Point of Biological Collapse?”

                as the title and topic of this thread, for example. That part to which your comments have so far added just about nothing in my estimation. You don’t have much idea of what I have or haven’t studied, by the way. And you’ve ignored any direct useful or interesting response to the questions I posed. It seems to me that that figures. You’re determined to confine the parameters of the discussion to what you deem as rightly economic in character and that is supposed to be somehow useful here in a thread which asks the quetstion in the title above. Why potential tipping points in biological collapse are only or best considered from such a narrow point of view is something that, rather than explain, you take for granted. Maybe that’s because you cannot explain why it should be so.

                1. Ben Johannson

                  You began by claiming that consumption isn’t consumption. When Amir demonstrated the falsity of this claim you shifted to “Oh, yeah? My granpa won’t consume!”

                  Now you’ve transitioned to “Oh, yeah? The title!”, when your original comment never mentioned the headline and instead attempted to impose your personal definition of consumption, a tactic known as threadjacking. You’ve demonstrated you did not understand the basic components of national output and are backpedaling furiously, lashing out with the claim that others just can’t understand thinking at your high level, so shut up.


        3. Ben Johannson

          Let’s be fair–those examples are not, properly speaking, consumption-growth. Instead, they’re various ways in which a person could direct the use of his time–spending more of it on any one or more interest necessarily implies that other interests shall suffer an equal reduction in the time spent on them.

          J.D. is discussing economics so those things are in fact consumption, “properly speaking”. If you want to vault off on your own personal tangent that’s your business, but basic mistakes like this will not be tolerated.

    2. trish

      “There are many other kinds of consumption which can be increased (and even increased a great deal.) For example, we could consume a lot more of education, art, leisure, literature, music, craft-work, and care-giving. Wealth is still desirable to maximize the production and consumption of these and other things—and “employment” (human effort) is required to both produce the things themselves and provide the income to consume them.”

      You say these are not “properly speaking” examples of consumption-growth.

      Perhaps I’m dense but why not?

      1. proximity1

        “Why not?”

        Because, (as I tried to explain and contend) they’re various ways in which a person could direct the use of his [finite, usable,] time–spending more of it on any one or more interest necessarily implies that other interests shall suffer an equal reduction in the time spent on them. (emphasis added)

        That is, your overall expenditure has not grown, not increased. Rather, you are re-allocating the use of the same resource (in this case, your expendable time). Even if you slept less, you’d still be robbing Peter–or, in that case, the Sandman– to pay Paul.

      2. Nell

        These are not properly speaking an example of consumption growth if you think in terms of neoclassical theories of the economy which are based on supply and demand for material goods and assumptions about capital accumulation. However, if you take an MMT perspective then consumption, as Ben says, can be conceptualized as anything that involves sales – ie contributes to GDP. JD Alt is really talking about what comes after capitalism, assuming the human planet survives its collapse.

      3. wbgonne

        I’d say those examples are more “investments” than “consumption.” No, tbe categories aren’t neat and perfect but tbe determinative questin, I think, is whether finite resources have been depleted. The world of the mind is infinite (done right, that is).

      4. susan the other

        “Consumption” is another meaningless word. Consider what industrial difference there is between mining natural resources and extracting oil and using both to create products which can be used (inefficiently) and conditioning people to buy more – and – mining and extracting knowledge and techniques by studying science (a truly vast and unexplored resource just waiting for us) and applying it. The difference is that if we cannot “sell” an item we cannot gain a profit and science has been the great commons, not to be claimed for profiteers. Altho it does happen with patents and other stuff. But the underlying industry of discovery and use is identical! So why can’t it be readily adapted? Creating a transitional economy.

    3. Oregoncharles

      Some basics – I think in elaboration of Alt’s point:
      Labor, capital, and materials are to a considerable extent inter-substitutable, particularly in the production of value (as opposed to goods). He’s talking about substituting labor and skill for both capital and, especially, materials (resources). (Digression: a key error in the foundations of economics is seeing only two production factors, omitting resources- and probably some other things, as well. They’re equated with capital, thus concealing [intentionally] their limiting role.) Hence, a finely crafted item is worth more and will last longer than one made in a huge factory – saving both capital and materials. Others of his examples make life better with very little use of resources. In general, the theory is to live well instead of consuming more.

      The big question is what kind of economic institutions would foster that kind of economy. Remember, using more labor implies that labor costs less compared to capital and materials; we don’t want to live in a sweat-shop world. That’s where redistribution comes in; for instance, we could distribute ownership of capital as widely as possible, so that labor receives returns to capital as well as to labor. This is worker ownership, aka socialism – but compatible with markets. Most craftspeople are already self-employed and thus examples of worker ownership.

      However, it only gets more complicated from here, and developing a socialist economy in the midst of ecological collapse will be very taxing. There is a model for doing this, though: the Transition Towns movement. I suggest looking it up – it’s a moving target. It’s also a rare bright spot in our culture.

      That leaves me on a positive note, when I actually think we’ve overshot by a lot more than 1.5-fold. One way or another, the human population will be much smaller a couple of centuries in the future. Most of the possible ways are not pleasant. They’re going to wonder WTF was wrong with us.

  2. Steve H.

    Thermodynamic pessimism leads to a vision of greater sequestering of high ‘transformity’ materials by hier-level entities. Lower-level organisms operating by frugality (increased efficiency) tend to get blown out by the power hungry who are willing to blow the energy out their entropy-hole for short-term gains. At collapse, the frugal survive in small niches specifically isolated from the general milieu.

    Ecological models studying coexistence have focused on multiple resources, so that a two-resource model has a middle ground where two organisms can co-exist, as long as each exploits one resource with greater efficiency than the other. Economics subverted this from ‘resources’ to ‘deprivations’ to ‘wants’, focusing on underconsumption of more wants (‘I want Hungry Birds’) without noting the underlying necessity of the limiting resources (Hungry Birds takes electricity, derived mostly from fossil fuels, blah blah). Increasing individual efficiency in consuming virtual wants was covered pretty well in ‘The Matrix’.

    “Fukuoko showed us they have also “consumed” the regenerative capacity of the most important layer of the biosphere: the soil.” Well said, exactly so. What we, as self-biased primates, have to come to terms with is when the raw power of the machined elite suppresses the regenerative efficiencies of the soil builders. Far too many olive groves have been bulldozed to ignore this. Hudson: “Herman and I went to the White House and it was explained to me, that this was the whole idea of tar sands. The aim is to use so much water that it creates a drought in America. The drought was seen as doubling or quadrupling grain prices.”

    I personally find that, in my daily life, the best method of offsetting ugly dystopianism is digging my fingers in the soil that is growing something which sustains me. In the spirit of creating a world with less misery, where we create art that feeds and protects us, I offer for your consumption a work which documents the extraordinary capacity we have to innovate for our most basic needs in the harshest environments; “The Water Atlas” by Pietro Laureano.

    1. susan the other

      Thanks for this comment Steve. I loved it. And thanks for my new favorite hyphenation “entropy-hole.”

    2. different clue

      “Hudson was told this about Tar Sands . . . ” . . . Really? Is that Michael Hudson? Was he really quoted as saying or writing that he was told that? Is there a clickable link to that so it could be spread around?
      That would be a pretty damning link if it could actually be proved to really exist in reality.

  3. Nell

    Thank god JD Alt provided a positive solution to the consumption issue. I tend to avoid issues to with sustainability as it makes me so utterly depressed about the future. I really like the idea that we could ‘consume a lot more of education, art, leisure, literature, music, craft-work, and care-giving’ and devote more energies to research and development of sustainable uses of the planets resources. This to me has to feel of a ‘grand vision’ for humanities future. It is important, I think, to do more than critique what we have now, we also need to develop a vision of a new political economy.

    1. diptherio

      I think we need to develop a new vision of a “successful life” altogether. The first thing I would do is to ban all advertising. Having our heads filled with nonsense about how we must have product X to be happy or socially relevant is one thing that MUST stop. If you can’t figure out that you need some particular thing without an advertiser telling you so, then you don’t need it.

      Secondly, we need to inculcate a culture of “simple living, high thinking” (to use a Nepali idiom). Our ideal for a successful life should be one in which a person consumes as little materially as possible, while consuming/creating as much non-material wealth as possible. We would be doing much better as a species if we started shaming people for being rich, for consuming resources unnecessarily, rather than for being poor and not consuming enough, as we do currently.

      I’ve written about this here:

      “Enough” is a difficult teaching, even in the best of times and for the best of minds, for “enough” is never what you think it is, never what you’re hoping for, but always infinitely less and yet, somehow, infinitely more.

      When Jesus sent his disciples out into the world to spread the new teaching, the good news (i.e. God loves everyone and so should you), he instructed them to “…take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts…” (Mark 6:8). He sent his disciples out into the world with nothing…and it was enough. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says that, “pious men eat what the gods leave over, after the offering…the unrighteous cook good food for the greed of their stomachs.” (BG ch. 3, sl. 12) You just take what is freely given…and it is enough. Like Rabbi Pinhas, who would not keep the financial offerings of his disciples, but promptly distributed them to the poor; “I only desire what I already possess,” he remarked. And another time, “Ever since I began giving true service to my Maker, I have not tried to get anything, but only taken what God gave me.” He looked upon all that he had, all that he had been given…and it was enough.

      But for us, it is never enough. We have become like the rakshasas of Hindu myth, the demons who, having obtained boons from the gods, proceed to conquer the three worlds and attempt to overthrow the very gods who gave them their power in the first place. “More…more,” is ever our mantra, never “enough.” But endless growth and ever-increasing consumption is the modus operandi of cancer, and we are humans. Thus, our highest wisdom ever recalls us to our human-ness; reminds us through demonstration that we already have enough, if we could but see rightly. But in the Age of Kali, “enough” is left out of the discourse.

      1. Banger

        You can’t just ban advertising without getting into thorny civil liberties issues and, besides, there is no mechanism to such a thing unless oligarchs, collectively decide to to that.

        The only “hope” is to understand who we are and where we’re going. The issues we face are, basically, that we have turned our face away from the inheritance of rationality and modernism and are rapidly moving to one that is almost exclusively escapist and narcissistic. This is a moral crisis more than an ecological crisis. The problem does not lie in the broken furniture after a drunken rage but in the drunkeness and the rage that it opened up. I had a long piece on this on this thread but it has disappeared as happens to me with increasing frequency so I need to keep my posts short.

        1. diptherio

          I’ve noticed that those disappearing comments tend to show up after awhile. Not always, though.

          You’re right about advertising, of course—it’s not going anywhere. I just never tire of pointing out how screwy it is that we have a whole industry devoted to psychological manipulation (well, at least one whole industry).

          1. Oregoncharles

            Lest we forget: the 2008 Obama campaign won the national award from the industry for best advertising campaign.
            A long way of saying: we got scammed – at least, a lot of us.

        2. Alejandro

          “The only “hope” is to understand who we are and where we’re going. The issues we face are, basically, that we have turned our face away from the inheritance of rationality and modernism and are rapidly moving to one that is almost exclusively escapist and narcissistic.”

          The implied purpose of PR(advertising etc.) is to interfere with this understanding(who we are) and steer the ‘herd’ in directionless meandering. One thing is to recognize and condemn the effects, its another to recognize and modify the cause. The roots might nourish, but it’s the seeds that propagate. We might not be able to ban advertising, but we can decide to progressively un-plug(as in NO fertile soil), which IMHO is the real challenge.

        3. jrs

          Yes but advertising has a lot to do with that. Advertising is anti-rationality, almost always, emotional psychological manipulation to get people to buy products is not rationality.

        4. hunkerdown

          I remember from some time ago a billboard along US 101 somewhere around the Oracle complex. On it was posted a jeweler’s advert, with “Diamonds are killing Africa!” tagged over it. I seem to remember the defacement stayed up for a while.

          Everyone is entitled to speak. Nobody is entitled to be heard as they wish to be.

      2. trish

        Banning advertising…this gets to what is truly the most difficult part. Aside from catastrophic damage to the environment there has been the concurrent damage sustained from the constant insidious marketing propaganda inundating the population virtually from birth on through the entire lifespan (going on three + generations). All to foster this consumption mentality to feed profits. Telling people what they need, want, must have, desire, that it’s all about them, having more stuff, shop shop shop = happy etc.

        A new vision, a new culture…the hard part is undoing – or beginning to undo- the one that exists so that a new one can truly seed and grow.
        Not easy in the face of the messaging. There will certainly be an amplification of the consumption message – more shrill, volume up- as the profiteers of and behind all the damage meet increasing opposition, threats to their profits, etc, and we move towards collapse.
        And there’s the direct near-constant feed from gadgets to brains- an insidious drip devised by the profiteers on top of being just more gotta-have stuff to buy.
        And then there’s the export of our gross-consumption model to more and more countries overseas.

      3. wbgonne

        Jesus Christ was a man who traveled through the land
        A hard-working man and brave
        He said to the rich, “Give your money to the poor,”
        But they laid Jesus Christ in His grave. …

        When Jesus come to town, all the working folks around
        Believed what he did say
        But the bankers and the preachers, they nailed Him on the cross,
        And they laid Jesus Christ in his grave …

        And the people held their breath when they heard about his death
        Everybody wondered why
        It was the big landlord and the soldiers that they hired
        To nail Jesus Christ in the sky. …

        This song was written in New York City
        Of rich man, preacher, and slave
        If Jesus was to preach what He preached in Galilee,
        They would lay poor Jesus in His grave.

        — Woody Guthrie

      1. Nell

        Thanks for the link. I have read some of JD Alts work before. Although I tend to associate Michael Hoexter’s work with environmental economics.

    2. jrs

      I don’t think in the world as it is pursuit of those things can be entirely divorced from material consumption. Do you need to drive to the theater, to the college to … How much money is spend in all the materials for the play you watch etc.. I get the direction though more in the direction of non-material things, less materialism, more other stuff. I’m just saying seemingly non-material things are not entirely so.

      1. susan the other

        Just thinking about Tacheles, an artist community in the ruins of East Berlin. They did everything with recycled materials, their art, their little hovels, and especially their “folks buhne” or open-air people’s theater. All with recycled stuff to make it work. I think it was subsequently torn down for some big redevelopment. A shame really.

  4. FNP

    Don’t forget the moonshot…

    Invent fusion energy (go Lockheed!) and computing power that can mimic human cognitive functions (AI/machine learning) and perhaps we can reach a post-scarcity economy within our lifetime.

      1. James Levy

        Yea, as the moonshot was a purely incremental advance and faced no insurmountable material limits. There is only so much fresh water, so much arable land, so much plankton in the sea pouring out oxygen, so many acres of rain forest. They are not inexhaustible resources. If you screw them up badly enough millions, or billions, will die. I see no historical evidence that a new technology ever bailed out a failing society. The most inventive periods in Egyptian, Chinese, Greek, Arab, Italian, and English History were invariably the most prosperous, not the most desperate. The idea that technology will bail us out is as odd as it is pervasive. I am not sure why it holds such sway over otherwise rational minds. Perhaps it is a substitute for religious faith.

        1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

          Nice post.

          Science for the pursuit of understanding is the best current available option.

          Science as a tool to interfere with Nature, out of greed for money, fame or power, is a Ponzi scheme, fraught with peril. It’s a journey only to be taken by those with a pure heart, and only reluctantly, fully aware that we don’t really know what we are doing.

          1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

            What I mean by ‘a pure heart’ is about not ‘charity after billionaire-hood,’ but ‘charity before billionaire-hood,’ or better yet, ‘charity INSTEAD OF billionaire-hood’, and the best (as far I know right now), ‘sharing and no billionaire-hood.’

            ‘We don’t hand out charity, in dialogue with our ego – we share…with humility.’

        2. hunkerdown

          I think it is exactly that: a faith for people who fancy themselves too cool for faith but live in a pietous (not just pious) culture. The culture war is merely a scuffle over whether the state religion’s god shall be Christian or secular… mutatis mutandis.

        3. FNP

          None of those cultures had free energy. It may not solve every problem, but it can do quite a bit. Fresh water, for example, would essentially become unlimited from a combination of fusion energy and the new nanotechnology membrane that Lockheed is working on. We can simply desalinize ocean water.

          Of course all those problems you discuss are real, but I try to be a little more hopeful. I see society right now in a race to develop the technologies that let us transcend those problems before it all collapses.

    1. FrY10cK

      How can a post-scarcity economy ever happen with most humans unwilling to even discuss family planning?

  5. grizziz

    Lamentation over the loss of vertebrate wildlife seems proper. Subjugation to crazy graphs is not!

  6. Banger

    This is not an environmental issue–it is an issue of social morality. To put it simply: culture of narcissism = disaster for society and for the world. Imagine a bunch of drunk teenagers in a large laboratory with careful experiments going on stumpling around, fighting sometimes using the acids to inflict major damage and so on. That’s who we are–despite bringing the knowledge of many cultures together a couple of centuries of scientific and technological discovery we a devolving and we know it which is why we seek escape above all things.

    For me, the only solution is to rediscover the source of ethics which is metaphysics and mysticism–but that’s not a popular subject here but, really, I have heard nothing better. If you have something better than let me know.

    1. wbgonne

      I don’t disagree but there is a problem of limited time. AFAIK, never in human history has there been a spontaneous consciousness-awakening of the masses in any culture that led to an enlightened society. As Hedges and Prof. Wolin note, the American Progressive Movement was probably tbe closest we have come. When socities have changed character, it has generally been done by a relatively small group of elites. That may be an immutable function of human nature in organized society or it might conceivably be malleable. But with the resource depletion we face across tbe board, and with AGW the Sword of Damocles overhead, I don’t think we have time to hope for that mass awakening. Which means that political power — or its more brutal alternatives — will determine our fate. The good news is that, since political power can be seized without uniform support across the population, we only need a certain (but undetermined) percentage on our side. The better news is that, at least IMHO, we already have enough popular support to sustain a Progressive renaissance in the U.S. Our immediate and most acute problem is that our political system has been hijacked and our political duoploly is utterly corrupt and unresponsive to the people. Fix that and tbe rest will follow. How to fix it? I think the Democratic Party must be destroyed and superseded.

      1. washunate

        Our immediate and most acute problem

        And that’s the rub, isn’t it? MMT doesn’t offer any insights into how to fix that. Alt is talking about what jobs we can create, as if technical limitations are the bottleneck.

        1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

          If I understand it correctly, the how involves recruiting a small group of Ueber Menschen to seize power, perhaps along with a government unburdened by annual budget fights???

          1. wbgonne

            Or we might have responsive political parties offering viable candidates who will act on behalf of the people who elect them. Which is what I suggested.

        1. wbgonne

          Massachusetts. The Green Party here is the Green-Rainbow Party (we’re very colorful). But they only run a few candidates per election, I believe.

          1. Vatch

            Ah, I guess I was confused about whether I was responding to you or to Banger. Anyhow, you probably already know this web site, but here it is for anyone who’s interested:


            If more people vote for their candidates, then more people might become candidates in future elections. A lot of states in the U.S. have the same situation.

  7. Eeyores enigma

    Just to clarify a point I was making earlier.

    Biofuels, biogas/bio-digestors all require feedstocks that require as much or more energy and other inputs themselves than they generate. All will say “but they are just using waste”. Waste is not free energy. Waste is a by-product of an inefficient system that can not continue if we are truly attempting to solve anything. Any of these operations that are generating “waste” should plug the energy and leftover biomass from that waste stream into their operation. This would help them become more sustainable but they ALL would still need additional energy and other inputs to operate. There is no such thing as perpetual motion aka free lunch.

  8. cwaltz

    I’m not sure we could do this and maintain a capitalist system which seems to spend a lot of time coming up with ways to exploit loopholes to maximize profits. It seems to be a system that he who has the most cookies win and if you are critical of him then it must be because you are “jealous” of their wealth(it seems to place wealth above things like love, happiness, health, etc etc) It encourages work while discouraging anything that does not produce wealth.

    However, it seems to me if we as a society spent more time promoting intrinsic value instead of promoting materials then it might be possible. People who have 5 houses shouldn’t be lauded(and yet they often are as “savvy businessmen”) they should be criticized for the fact that they were filling a want rather than a need and consuming nature. Perhaps there should be penalties or fees to discourage it. As someone pointed out above instead of promoting working 60 hours so you can afford crap there should be a push for simple and spending more time being healthy, pursuing interests, etc,etc. I think as you go from a worker bee society to one where people are just doing minimum and pursuing things besides things you also might see an improvement in quality of life for 80% too. Imagine having the time to take your kid to the beach or spend a day in the park just enjoying each others company. To many that would be heaven. However, with wages as they are and items like rent so high they can’t afford that day off.

  9. Garrett Pace

    Lots of good stuff in this article, however I don’t agree about some inexorable decline in nature. The sun is continually pouring down vast amounts of consumable energy, and if we clear the field of some organisms, or drastically simplify some systems, there are plenty of others ready to capitalize. For example, that’s why our oceans are filling up with jellyfish, and there’s plenty of microbes having a great time too.

    Whether the resultant dynamic equilibrium will be good for humanity is a different question.

  10. Globus Pallidus XI

    With respect, this is both technically correct, intelligently written, and overall wrong.

    Consider the last 500 years of western progress. We have had chemical fertilizers, the green revolution, insecticides, irrigation systems, etc. And yet much of the world has a standard of living below that of late Medieval europe.

    The issue is not a technical fix. The issue is demographics. There is (almost) no standard of living so high that, with a modest population, it cannot be sustained without harming the environment. There is NO standard of living so low that, if you multiply the numbers enough, the land will not be stripped bare and the sky darkened with ash. Compare China with Australia. Yes?

    Perhaps there are methods of farming that can somewhat reduce the environmental impact of intensive cultivation. So what? Let the rich jam in a few billion more people and any environmental benefits of a such a method will be easily wiped away by ever greater numbers. We know that with a modest population we can sustain a high standard of living even with existing methods without destroying the environment. That is certain. We don’t know if technology has yet another rabbit that it can pull out of its hat in the next decade or two and let us add some more billions without destroying the world – and even if there is, all past experiences with technological innovations have shown that there is no technology so advanced that it’s benefits cannot be wiped out by exponential population growth. Why not go for the sure thing?


    1. Yves Smith Post author

      E.O. Wilson estimated humans were consuming 20% to 40% of the planet’s biological energy in the early 1990s. We had a lot fewer people on the planet then. As Alt points out, we’ve wiped out half the species, which makes the entire biosphere less stable and more prone to collapse for that reason alone. Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote how GMO crops are a bad ideas for similar reasons, they reduce diversity and are thus more susceptible to complete, as opposed to partial failure.

      Global warming is worsening the picture by increasing pressure on our most scarce resource, potable water, and putting formerly productive growing areas, like the Murray-Darling basin in Australia, in frequent drought. Global warming will NOT create productive areas to replace the ones harmed, since areas further north or south get less sunlight (hence less biological areas), so their productivity won’t be as high even if their growing seasons get longer.

      It took only seven years of drought to wipe out the Mayan civilization. You are part of the denialist crowd that thinks better technology will save our bacon. It’s a self-serving excuse to stop doing what we really need to do now, which is radically restructure how we live.

      1. Jim Shannon

        “For Heidegger, technology places unreasonable demands upon the environment, relating to beings for their use value rather than for their value in relation to being: “The revealing that rules in modern technology is a challenging, which puts to nature the unreasonable demand that it supply energy which can be extracted and stored as such” (“Concerning Technology” 320). ”
        “As technology makes nature into a set of calculable sums, the objectification of nature becomes the ready tool exercised by those in power.”
        We won’t fool “Mother Nature”, but we will allow those in POWER to EXTRACT all they covet for personal gain. Alt is spot on. Humans have been in denial, Technology will not save the Planet from mans abuse!

      2. hunkerdown

        Population reduction, which is to my mind the better part of GP11’s argument, *is* a radical restructuring of how the West lives, undermining a broad range of sacred oxen from the cultural imperative to go forth and multiply to the role of population gains in the blessing of groaf. Now I think that’s necessary but insufficient, and thus there is a need to develop some technologies to help cushion the survivors, possibly including ourselves — the appropriate technologies we scorned in the Seventies seem good candidates and thank heavens there are people working at this even now.

        That said, a culture not founded on Protestantism and worshipping the lash is a precondition to even seeing the problem as a problem. If St. Augustine’s strivery for something, anything (“continuous improvement” if you prefer the secular parlance of our time) is the best we can do for “human purpose”, better we dust off our feet and start building our lifeboats.

  11. washunate

    No. :)


    As far as the substance, the author continues to misunderstand the problem:

    “How then are we to have “economic growth and prosperity” if we must—as the HANDY Model and WWF study are telling us—cut back our present consumption of natural resources?”

    The problem is not how to cut back consumption of natural resources. This sort of leftist doomsday prophesying is no more reality-based than the various rightist forms. We don’t face some kind of existential crisis from over-consumption.

    Rather, our problems have to do with the distribution of our consumption. To the extent over-consumption is an issue, it is an issue precisely because wealth and power are so heavily concentrated. We don’t need moar jobs. We need to change what work is, how it’s organized, who makes decisions, what goals we are trying to achieve. Whether that leads to a higher or lower quantity of ‘jobs’ is irrelevant.

  12. Vatch

    “According to the study, at present rates of consumption, human civilization requires 1.5 Earths to meet its needs.”

    This is very significant. At current rates of consumption, the majority of the people on Earth are very poor. We can improve this somewhat by reducing the consumption of people in the richest nations, but it’s not likely that people in the U.S. will voluntarily agree to reducing our consumption to a level below the average consumption of people in Western Europe. When one considers some of the geographical distances in North America, it’s hard to believe that people in the U.S. will even agree to reduce our consumption to the current level of Western Europe.

    So will China, India, and the rest of Asia, South America, and Africa agree to remain poor? Not likely. Any solution to the problem of overshoot requires a smaller human population on Earth, in addition to reductions in individual consumption by people in the richest nations. People need to stop having so many children!

  13. John

    The glass of wine you drank last night is a product of biological overshoot. Good for you, not so much for the Saccharomyces species that overshot. I wonder what they thought when the sugar was half way gone.
    Do you think humans are immune?
    check out dieoff.org

    1. hunkerdown

      The bad teeth were a solved mystery, but finally we understand just how the Ferengi got so fugly.

  14. Ed

    “No matter what sort of social/economic arrangements you devise, at some point, those arrangements shall, unless the population is somehow limited to a sustainable level, reach a limit beyond which available material resources cannot be supplied. At that point, any increase in consumption by the existing population or the addition of just one more individual (note: human or non-human, since, ultimately, animals which consume compete for the resources they need to survive) will mean that some other individual(s) must do with less or if severe enough, do without altogether.”

    This is from the first comment here, by “Proximity One”, and I’m not replying directly because I think it got buried and want to re-highlight it. He (or she) makes a point I haven’t considered before.

    There is an ongoing mass extinction of animals, usually termed “the Sixth Great Extinction”, and the figures are quite alarming once you look into them. The mass extinction of animals is strong evidence that the human population has overshot the Earth’s resources. This is because humans and other animals compete for the same resources of food, air, and water. Once the human population overshoots, humans will first prioritize the consumption of the remaining resources by humans over animals; in other words humans will let all the animal species go extinct first before the human population starts to be curtailed. The extinctions of other species are bad enough in themselves, and in the sense that they are often needed for the human population to survive, but also in the sense that once the animals are thrown off the sled it will be time to start throwing people off, and we are about halfway through the animals.

    Globus Pallidus XI (who has an interesting eponymous blog), makes a point that has been made before here, but is worth repeating since alot of people don’t seem to understand it. There is a limit to how much ANY technology of production and system of consumption can sustain a human population. There is a limit to how much slash and burn agriculture can sustain. There is a limit to how many humans can be sustained if humans had gills supplementing our current respiratory system and could photosynthesize, and all consumption was divided equally. There would still be a limit to the size of the human population the Earth could support, and once it was reached, the only way would be down. Unless the documented and historical tendency of humans to reproduce up to and just beyond the limits of sustainability is overcome (the instinct is actually common to all life, but its humans now doing the damage to the biosphere, and humans alone developed a reasoning ability that could have overcome the instinct), then at some point a limit has to be reached. New tech and new ways of organization basically buys time, and the number of humans have increased to the point that even at small growth percentages the time bought can only be a few decades at the most.

    1. washunate

      Unless the documented and historical tendency of humans to reproduce up to and just beyond the limits of sustainability is overcome

      But that’s the thing. This tendency doesn’t exist. It’s a mirage; the real problem is the poverty of flesh and spirit caused by excessive concentration of wealth and power. The ‘natural’ tendency of our species – when given a real choice – is actually to give birth so infrequently that it’s below replacement level(!). Our species has been trying for years to shrink its global footprint, and this terrifies the authoritarians.

      Aside from social stability and general fairness, this is the environmental reason why better distribution of wealth is so key. Lifting people out of poverty – across cultures – allows people to choose to have fewer kids later in life. We have solved the population ‘problem’. We solved it decades ago.

      The issue is that authoritarianism doesn’t work well with smaller, more comfortable populations. Instead, it requires large numbers of desperate people, second class citizens, oppressed minorities, whatever terminology we want to use.

  15. Ernesto Lyon

    The powerful play their game of thrones while the threat that would consume them all grows beyond the wall.

  16. amateur socialist

    Conversations like this remind me of the hilarious 50+ year old scifi novel The Space Merchants by Fredeirik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth. One of the imagined subcultures in that work are called “Consies” iirc because of an avowed refusal to consume more than needed to survive. Makes me think I should read it again, it’s been decades.

  17. kevinearick

    Juvenile Banking

    Nothing to see, just critters waking up in a demographic bust, working harder and harder to create artificial scarcity, to re-inflate the mythology justifying the get-them-before-they-get-you, juvenile psychology of peer pressure dictating herd behavior, fear as a self-fulfilling prophesy among passive aggressive bullies and their scapegoats, same as it ever was.

    Uuuh, those mean, nasty bnksters, the top 1%, in terms of toilet paper production, be afraid, be very afraid, as an excuse for the political majority, which is far south of 99%, somewhere around 9% on either side of the pole, acting as gatekeepers for profit, to keep the other 90% in line, with credit leverage.

    Bank just cuts the system up into artificial specialties to give the gatekeepers the excuse and cover necessary, always blaming 5000-yr-old behavior, to continue the same behavior, with sidewalk surveys for the purpose. The bankers don’t build weapons or develop violent video games, man armies or prisons, evict renters or collect taxes, or give your children Rydalin. All they do is manage the mythology of money, for critters who do not want to take responsibility for their own behavior, always seeking a scapegoat in others.

    On what planet is Alan Greenspan going to be the toast of the party, except one in which juveniles are getting ‘even’ with juveniles, and all the other juveniles show up , in fear of being left out of the loop. Drugs and money don’t go hand in hand by acciedent. Funny, how a drug, spending paper or otherwise, is always the first, middle and last test of inclusion in the club, and you are weird/dangerous if you don’t participate.

    If pictures are worth a thousand words, the cavedwellers of yesterday are far more intelligent than anything you will find in finance today. Even now, they hedge, hoping the casino will reboot itself, as the demographic bust realigns with natural resource production.

    The form and nature of government, natural resource exploitation, is irrelevant to labor, except as an extension of gravity, landing and take-off. Go get your license and go back to work. You didn’t miss anything, and you are far better positioned than the addicts.

    I get paid to fire people, much more than I get paid to fix elevators, and more than the lobbyists make to grow weeds in the Attorney Generals Office, and I’m pretty good at it. What you plant is up to you.

    I can fix anything made by man, which puts me in the top 1%, and makes me the enemy of the political majority, but no one outside your marriage can fix your marriage. Internal fortitude is the one and only path to the future.

    Who you want on your side when you grow old is not the same as who the majority wants at its side in high school. Go do some time at a retirement home if you don’t know what I mean. Government is not the answer.

    The critters in the US Navy are looking back now, and see that I was there at every juncture, to no avail. You’ll have that. Don’t look back and expect to see a happy outcome, when that oncoming train is recognized by the majority.

    1. kevinearick

      in 1808 Putnam was elected the first Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Free & Accepted Masons of Ohio

  18. susan the other

    Reply to RWood: Sellafield, Fukushima, Hanford, Carlsbad, Paducah, 3-mile Isl, Chernobyl, Oak Ridge, Las Vegas, Savannah River, Denver, etc. There was a reason for storing that stuff in pools besides the expense of burying it safely away. Because war. Ironic that we no longer need war to destroy ourselves. Word has it that Bechtel Corp. has told the US Gov that it really doesn’t know how to clean up Hanford.

    1. RWood

      Yes, and the responses of our betters seem enough to shock us into dumb silence.
      “Some explanations of a crime are not explanations: they’re part of the crime.”: Olavo de Cavarlho

  19. Nobody (the outcast)

    “We are the octopus congratulating itself for becoming fat by eating its own legs.” – Masanobu Fukuoka

  20. craazyman

    what part of nature do you want to rebuild?

    There are huge spiders 1 foot long in Africa that would make you scream, there’s things like poison ivy and there’s things like crazed beasts wallowing in pools of mud. They’ll kill you dead if they can. There’s also lots of germs. That’s nature. Usually people try to kill germs! You can’t pet them or take cute picture of them. There’s also things like horrible fish, ugly hideous fish, like snakehead fish that get loose in rivers and eat everything in sight.

    How can you decide what part of nature you want to keep? It sounds like something is missing here. How about if the sun blows up? That’s nature. Do you want to keep that? What if the galaxy crashes into the Andromeda galaxy and all the stars and planets crush each other? That’s nature.

    Nature. What is nature? Is nature speaking through your head in a voice you can’t hear taking over your innermost reflections and contemplations — because it can and you let it? Making you think you’re thinking your own thoughts but they’re really nature, crazed and delusional nature, violent and murderous, cruel and blank, mindless and soulless nature? Why is that something you’d want to keep? It’s insane. Nature. Why not acknowledge that it’s insane and take possession? that’s what needs to be done. but you need some Edward Green shoes and a nice tailored suit from Saville Row. then you can really take over as long as you keep your mind free from nature’s influence.

    1. craazyman

      If you wear shoes like these, you can rise above all of nature and fly to the eternal sun that lights the land of the living and the dead. outside of space and outside of time. that’s something nature can only dream of.


      these shoes are incredible. don’t pretend that you don’t agree! I have a bad feeling I’ll end up buying these shoes, even though I tell myself it would be a frivolous and unmanly expenditure — and then spend time joyfully walking down 3rd avenue in the sun with a “Faaaak I’m hot” vibe. It’s just my nature. I can’t help it. hahahahahah

  21. JamesW

    As you read through all these comments, you realize that the world has become a tower of babel. Mass confusion, collisions of viewpoints and ideals, like a bus full of garrulous fools heading towards an abyss, unable either to stop of turn around, unaware of the initial and underlying causes of the looming catastrophe.

  22. steelhead23

    Let’s talk a bit about how to achieve the prosperity JD presents in his last graph. I agree that wealth inequality adds to the dystopian model, but population itself is likely the stronger driver. So, let me provide my perspective on why policy tends to support expanding the human population rather than to constrain and shrink it. Let’s begin with the retirement dilemma. Most pensions are underfunded – the rationale being that a growing workforce could support the prior generation of workers without burdening current workers with the cost it would take to fully fund the plan. This thought process is widely viewed as rational. Were individual workers saddled with ensuring their own financial security in their dotage, they would be obliged to save more. Again, this harms the economy by reducing consumption (good for natural wealth, bad for what most economists perceive as human wealth). Then we have the plutocrats. By the nature of their privilege, they actively seek to protect their wealth. This also leads toward policies that encourage population growth. The more folks there are, the more consumers there are, and the more consumers there are, the larger the plutocrats’ profits. As very few policies are truly religious in nature, I am quite convinced that anti-abortion and anti-birth-control activism have the interests of plutocrats in their financial footing. That is, the fat cats fund these activities. I cannot prove it, but I’d bet on it.

    I have noticed that we seldom hear much about ZPG these days. Even most environmental groups stay away from the issue because it has been demogogued to imply a limit on individual freedom and to step on God’s toes. I find this terribly sad. In fact, I consider human population growth a larger issue than climate change for just the reasons depicted in this article. And I cannot believe that if there is a God, He wishes humans to procreate to the point that they destroy themselves and the rest of His creation. I am not now proselytizing that you use contraception, or get an abortion. Let’s just agree that population growth is a problem. Given the globe’s teeming cities filled with struggling souls and the fact that Earth is finite and cannot sustain 6 billion humans, accepting that premise should be easy. We merely need to get the faux-religion and faux-freedom issues out of the discussion. Once we broadly accept that human population growth is an existential issue, we could then debate the public policy measures to reduce the problem so our great grandchildren can live in a naturally wealthy world.

    1. FrY10cK

      A public policy discussion of family planning is not possible in the U.S. of 2014. This bodes ill.

  23. Fiver

    The socioeconomic system that incorporates the principles presented here are those of a system I’ve named ‘eco-socialism’ and have argued for on NC and elsewhere for a very long time. We can still pull ourselves out of this very deep ditch, but we’re cutting it awfully short.

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