JUST ABOUT 72 years ago my mother was taxied from our home on Aukai Street to the Kapiolani Gynecological Hospital so that doctors and nurses there could help bring me into the world. On New Year’s Day 1947, the ward was a pretty busy scene with 13 of us new islanders choosing that day to be born. Babies ready? … Boom! This is me in the upper left corner of Sunday’s Honolulu Advertiser, obviously not all that happy to be being photographed.
|Honolulu Advertiser, January 5, 1947|
To change people’s minds about behavior you have to either make the case really scary, or the time-to-impact really short because of people’s evolved tendency to focus on the present (and cultures impact on causing discount rates to be even steeper). For most Americans, ‘the future’ is this weekend. Climate change is real (as are myriad other environmental externalities), but if people are losing jobs and have to worry about feeding their kids, concern about the natural world will take a back seat to more mundane realities.
Nature abhors a gradient. Life requires one. Possessing gradients, and throttling them to create islands of low entropy while global entropy rises, is the very essence of life. Those organisms that are most effective in accessing and degrading energy have had evolutionary advantage. This includes human societies. For us to voluntarily give up or reduce access to the highest quality fuels goes against our evolutionary grain for ‘more’ or ‘progress.’ Reducing consumption via top-down authority is possible (think Tokugawa Japan) but extremely unlikely. Our modern history is one of doing everything in our power to keep continued global access to high EROI fuels possible.
Declining energy productivity (lower aggregate EROI), instead of causing a belt-tightening in the 1970s, caused us to go to debt to continue high levels of consumption. That led to lower and lower debt productivity (less and less GDP per additional $ of debt), to the point that central banks had to take over the model. In the US, our economy, ex-government, stopped growing in 2005. China, Russia, Brazil, etc are following the exact same model (plummeting debt-to-productivity). So we added government debt to offset declining private growth. Once debt productivity goes below zero (as it is currently in the US and probably in many European countries), we are simply transmuting wealth into income–and the timeline of being able to continue that strategy becomes very short, irrespective of oil prices.
Some observers are calling the situation a “bloodbath” for shale oil producers noting that at $45 a barrel or lower, nearly all the independent shale oil producers are losing a substantial amount on nearly every barrel they produce.
“The threat of nuclear annihilation and climate change on a permanent basis looms, and therefore it is time for new leaders to rise up and make the case and mobilize the people for what needs to be done. What needs to be done is unprecedented, and therein lies the dilemma.”For me, at 72, near-term human extinction is a foregone conclusion. I will likely be out of here before the worst parts of that fate beset us. I just pity the children arriving this New Year to the maternity wing at Kapiolani.
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