Home > Regular Features > Sandpit


November 25th, 2013

A new sandpit for long side discussions, idees fixes and so on.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:
  1. Jim Rose
    November 25th, 2013 at 13:28 | #1

    the artic 30 have bail but now have immigration visa problems.

    I wonder if anyone plans to follow them in protesting in that way again

  2. Ikonoclast
    November 25th, 2013 at 14:25 | #2

    An appreciation of realpolitiks and real power would convince me not to protest wherever Russia has or claims sovereignty.

    However, we should not take any shcadenfreude from the situation(s) of the Arctic 30. Russia is a Chekist state. “Chekism is the situation in the Soviet Union (USSR) and contemporary Russia where the secret political police de facto controls the society.” – Wikipedia. Russia, like two other unfree superpowers is asserting its right to wreck our climate.

  3. Megan
    November 26th, 2013 at 00:30 | #3

    There was some discussion about disclosing ABC remuneration in the latest thread.

    Agree with what Ikon and others said.

    Especially, I would expand that to ALL public expenditure. How on earth can “commercial in confidence” be justified when these people are spending my money, ostensibly for my good?

    It doesn’t make any sense at all. If having the contract price and ultimate spending details available for public view puts off a supplier, I can’t see that as anything but a benefit.

    Same goes for the ABC. Annabel Crabbe gets a couple of hundred thousand bucks? Fran Kelly, too? That’s just obscene. As one troll pointed out, Bolt did his ABC gigs for about $250 a go – how many people would jump at $250 for a nice cuppa and a Sunday morning spot on “Barry & Rupert & Friends”?

    No, it’s BS. You spend our money, you account for every cent. And while you’re at it – break all commercial and formal or informal ties to News Ltd. If I wanted to hear what Rupert thought I’d pick up a News Ltd paper, I don’t need to hear it all over my ABC and SBS.

  4. Megan
    November 26th, 2013 at 00:54 | #4

    Politicians (handled by the establishment media revolving door to media advisors) do “appearances” to announce $X hundred million dollars will be spent on Y project.

    If we had anything even vaguely looking like a functioning media, the first question would be: “And how exactly will that be spent? What is the precise break-down of that between actual work and consultants, PR, marketing, ‘community consultation’, advertising in the Murdoch press etc..”

    Unfortunately the real journalists are starved of funding and genuine answers, whilst the enabling stenographers are richly remunerated and fed acceptable talking-point quotes for mass circulation regurgitation.

    But I still persist!

  5. Ikonoclast
    November 26th, 2013 at 07:51 | #5

    What is the defining characteristic of late stage corporate industrial capitalism and its underpinning neoliberal ideology? Its defining characteristic is its maladaptiveness and inability to change in the face of incontrovertible evidence of the necessity to change.

    Since at least 1972 we have been stuck in one ideology, one mode of production, one mode of excessive consumption and one general mode of political economy. The ideology is neoliberal, the production is corporate, hierarchical and fossil-fueled. We see excessive consumption of our resource endowment occuring without preparation for the transition to any sort of sustainable economy. We see endless growth attempted on a finite earth. The political economy of oligarchic capitalism continues without any attention to equity or sustainability.

    This is a general and very personal rant of course. For forty years I have seen my civilization going the wrong way and known with 100% certainty that it was and still is going the wrong way. How have I known? With the publication of Limits to Growth it became axiomatically certain and obvious to any logical thinker that we were on an unsustainable path which if unchanged would lead to total disaster. I am not a deep or original thinker. I am simply a logical thinker who takes clear trends to their obvious and indeed inevitable conclusion.

    What confounds me is how most people, even very intelligent people, cannot see what is so axiomatically clear and certain. Obviously, they are in the grip of a legitimising ideology which holds that endless growth capitalism is The One True Way. The grip and seductiveness of this ideology (we can have it good forever without any negative consequences) is so great that people cannot see what it is actually blindingly obvious and happening right in front of them.

    The collapse has commenced. It is quite easy to predict that places like Greece, Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Libya and so on will never recover. They cannot ever recover. There are not enough resources left for recovery. All that can happen now is that the collapse will spread. Some regions might persist in a more or less liveable state for up to 50 years yet. That is probably the best we can hope for.

    I will be signing off for a good while soon so people can have a rest from my doom and gloom. Actually it’s just hard-nosed, realistic perception and analysis but frankly most people just can’t handle the truth.

  6. Julie Thomas
    November 26th, 2013 at 08:38 | #6

    Ikon “I will be signing off for a good while soon so people can have a rest from my doom and gloom.”

    No, please don’t go away, unless you really want or need to. I value your realism and doom and gloom as an important point of view.

    I have also ‘known’ that we have been going the wrong way for the past 3-4 decades. I knew it from a woman’s point of view; that there was no way to be a good mother and raise good children and also be the competitive, selfish and individualistic person that the new ideology required.

    With my genetic tendency to be depressed – father who took his own life – I need to deliberately adopt a Pollyanna outlook but your more negative viewpoint is and has been important to me, and I’d say others, for providing a different informed and intelligent perspective.

    But perhaps the doom and gloom view is not good for your own state of mind?

  7. Ikonoclast
    November 26th, 2013 at 10:25 | #7

    @Julie Thomas

    There is a form of intellectual depression that is the logical outcome of an objective analysis of the human condition. No doubt it is exacerbated by a lack of natural “happy chemicals” in the brain. It is best endured. Treatment is impossible for a thinking person because a cure would mean forsaking clarity, logic and objectivity.

    Most happy people, happy in the absence of external tragedy, are so because they are lucky to be born with a brain that makes plenty of happy chemicals. It’s as simple as that. No great trick to it. To keep going when you are not so blessed is much more laudable IMO.

  8. Tim Macknay
    November 26th, 2013 at 12:12 | #8

    One of the symptoms of depression is that sufferers delude themselves that they are thinking clearly. As a sufferer I’m well aware of this. There’s plenty of research that shows, that, while depressed people may have a superficial ability to assess the likelihood of bad things happening more accurately than psychologically healthy people, when it comes to making significant decisions, depression hampers, rather than assists, the ability to think rationally.

    The thing that periodically grates about Ikon’s rants for me is this pretence that they are based on some kind of objective certainty. I have no problem with Ikon pointing out the very significant global sustainability problems we face.

    But there’s a difference between “possible”, or “likely”, and “certain”. Very few things in human affairs are actually certain. The claims that “doom” is certain are invariably based on ignoring or downplaying the evidence of positive developments while emphasising the negatives (hyper-optimists or “cornucopians” do the same thing in the opposite direction, of course).

    The use of terms like “axiom” to refer to attempts to model uncertain empirical realities is also typical of this deluded faux certainty.

  9. John Quiggin
    November 26th, 2013 at 12:58 | #9

    “It is quite easy to predict that places like Greece, Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Libya and so on will never recover. ”

    These countries are going through some bad times, but we have a long historical record for all of them. Pick any 50 year period in the last 5000 years, and you can find the same or worse. So, I guess they probably will recover (or at least, if they don’t it will be due to a global catastrophe unrelated to their current difficulties).

  10. Tim Macknay
    November 26th, 2013 at 13:28 | #10

    On the subject of “easy prediction”, the noted celebrity psychic Sylvia Brown predicted effortlessly that she would live to the age of 88. She died several days ago, aged 77. 😉

  11. John Quiggin
    November 26th, 2013 at 13:49 | #11

    I remember a book that came out in the early 1970s, called The Last Generation which, as you might infer from the title, argued that the author’s generation would be the last to survive on earth due to environmental catastrophe etc. I went to Amazon to see if I could find it, but discovered the same title had been used so many times by everyone from ecopessimists to eschatologists that it was impossible to find the book I was looking for.

  12. Ikonoclast
    November 26th, 2013 at 13:56 | #12

    @John Quiggin

    “I guess they probably will recover (or at least, if they don’t it will be due to a global catastrophe unrelated to their current difficulties).” – JQ.

    The point is that their current difficulties are directly related to a global catastophe. This is the catastrophe of continuing to attempt to grow exponentially (globally) at the time in history when resource limits have been reached.

  13. Ikonoclast
    November 26th, 2013 at 14:03 | #13

    @Tim Macknay

    Nothing is more certain than the axiom: “Growth cannot continue indefinitely in a finite system.”

    Nothing is more certain than the fact that exponential overshoot in biological systems will degrade carrying capacity.

    Nothing is more certain than the fact the we are already in overshoot. Global footprint analysis indicates that very clearly.

  14. Ikonoclast
    November 26th, 2013 at 14:27 | #14

    @John Quiggin

    Every day, for the last twenty years, I could have been predicting very pessimistically that “I am going to die today.” Could you infer from my large number of failed predictions that I was never going to die? Of course not. Equally, from a large number of failed predictions about ecological doom you cannot infer that ecological doom is not going to happen. That is a really basic logical fallacy. Each new scientific prediction (refined by new data and new modelling) has to be judged on its own merits.

    Finally, doom is always guaranteed so far we can tell from the laws of this universe. Individual mortality, species extinction, solar collapse and the death of the universe (heat death or its collapse and a new big bang) are all practically certain events within the most miniscule, vanishingly small, range of uncertainty. Doom is assured. It’s just a matter of timing.

  15. Tim Macknay
    November 26th, 2013 at 14:42 | #15

    The thing is, Ikon, your “axiom” and your first “fact” tell us precisely nothing useful about the probable trajectory of human affairs over the course of the next century. That’s the trouble with axioms.

    And your third “fact” is simply wrong. The current state of footprint analysis simply does not warrant anything like the the level of certainty you ascribe to it. Footprint analysis is a relatively new method which deals with highly uncertain variables (which its practitioners readily acknowledge), and its value is debated among experts and in the literature. Even its value as a pedagological tool (which is its least controversial use) is disputed, because of the artificiality of converting things like atmospheric pollution into a land footprint.

    What Footprint analysis undoubtedly does tell us is that we’re facing sustainability and environmental problems (which we already knew by other means).

    But far from being a “fact”, the statement “we are already in overshoot” is pretty close to meaningless. Nobody really knows with any certainty what the Earth’s carrying capacity for humans actually is. The range of reasonable estimates goes well above the current human population, as well as below it.

    And it’s not at all clear how the biological concept of overshoot is considered to map onto the modern human economy, the vast bulk of whose footprint is not concerned with food production. A large chunk of the global “footprint” measured by these analysis tools is the greenhouse emissions footprint, but the fact is, we don’t really know what the impact of global warming will be on human food production capacity (notwithstanding that we can surmise with some confidence (but not certainty) that it will have many negative environmental effects in general).

    The only relevant “fact” about footprint analysis is that the analysts themselves do not ascribe anything like the level of certainty to their method that you do. Your insistence that this stuff is axiomatically “certain” is completely unsupported by evidence or argument. I really do wonder what motivates you to do it.

  16. Tim Macknay
    November 26th, 2013 at 14:49 | #16

    Finally, doom is always guaranteed so far we can tell from the laws of this universe.

    When you start saying this kind of thing, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that it’s depression talking.

    The laws of thermodynamics, the mortality of living beings, the finite nature of the sun and the probable heat death of the universe have absolutely nothing to do with the prospects for human civilisation over the next century or two. Those things are all as equally compatible with a cornucopian vision of space colonies as they are with a peak-oil type collapse.

    That that you now want to segue to these vaster, more remote and abstract concepts of “doom” strongly suggests that you are not so much trying to grapple with real world issues as trying to preserve a particular mindset.

  17. Ikonoclast
    November 26th, 2013 at 15:13 | #17

    As Hoot said in the film Blackhawk Down; “You know what I think? It don’t matter what I think.” It don’t matter what you think. It don’t matter what they think. None of it based on what people think. (Where “think” means have an opinion.)

  18. Tim Macknay
    November 26th, 2013 at 15:24 | #18


    None of it based on what people think. (Where “think” means have an opinion.)

    Of course it is.

  19. Hermit
    November 26th, 2013 at 16:09 | #19

    I thought the SBS 2 Cities of the Underworld show on the Mayan civilisation might have contained major insights. Until a few centuries ago the Mayans numbered 4.6m (if I recall) in the area that is now Belize. Now the somewhat Hispanic population is just 0.3m. The current people seem for the most part seem to be battlers but they look after their forests and coral reefs. They don’t seem to feel the need for human sacrifice like the Mayans presumably they just watch TV these days.

    The Mayans turned to sacrifice to appease the gods when it all turned bad. In their heyday settlements and agriculture competed for space with little margin for error like drought. It seems the people just dispersed. The show claimed the Mayans predicted the world would end in 2012. Maybe not but the take home message could be that large human populations must implode before they can regenerate sustainably.

  20. Julie Thomas
    November 26th, 2013 at 16:21 | #20


    So you think it is rational for you to have become more depressed over the past couple of years? Because you are noticeably more negative (and more certain) in your outlook on lots of things recently.

  21. Tim Macknay
    November 26th, 2013 at 16:37 | #21

    I agree with Julie.

    Several years ago you were determinedly pessimistic. Then you got a bit more upbeat for a while – I recall you mentioning you’d read some material which caused you to abandon a peak-oil dogma about the non-viability of renewable energy. At the time I remember thinking that I liked the new, solutions-oriented Ikonoclast much better than the old, doomy one.

    But now you’ve gotten determinedly pessimistic again, which seems to be linked to your interest in footprint analysis. But I can’t tell if the footprint stuff is a cause or a symptom.

  22. Julie Thomas
    November 26th, 2013 at 16:45 | #22

    And about brain chemistry, Ikon, it is not clear what comes first the behaviour or the good chemicals. We can change our brains; we just have to want to but it’s good to wallow sometimes and western culture does seems to appreciate art that comes from depressed people; from pain and suffering.

    Eastern culture admired art that came from rising above the turmoil of ordinary life.

  23. John Quiggin
    November 26th, 2013 at 16:52 | #23

    “The point is that their current difficulties are directly related to a global catastophe. ”

    Say what? Current events in Syria, Egypt, Libya etc are far more closely linked to the history of European colonialism than to anything happening to global resources. And the disaster in Greece is the avoidable product of fiscal and monetary mismanagement by Greek governments and the ECB (take you pick which to blame, it doesn’t matter to your argument).

    It’s far more reasonable to blame the wars, revoluations and barbarian invasions of 1500-3000 years ago (of which there are a long list) on the environmental mismanagement that turned much of North Africa (once the breadbasket of Europe) into a desert, and deforested large parts of Greece.

  24. Fran Barlow
    November 26th, 2013 at 18:20 | #24

    Having a clear-eyed appreciation of the quality and variety of the challenges one faces and the options for responding to them is an excellent thing. It helps to foreclose disappointment and predisposes rational conduct.

    On the other hand, just as the usefulness of the broken analog clock that happens to be correct twice each day is zero, so too a person whose outlook is determinedly pessimistic without foundation has an outlook that is of no value, even to him/herself. Yes, s/he may periodically avoid disappointment but the things for which most of us live — a sense of purpose, belonging, and fulfilment will never be enjoyed.

    Yes, being a pollyanna — or more commonly, cognitively dissonant may lead to ruin of of oneself and others — but being everyone’s curmudgeonly wet blanket denies one the petty pleasures of human community. Occasionally, as a rational optimist, one will achieve successes and one should prize these and use them as the foundation for as much rational optimism as one can muster.

    Yes, there is uncertainty, but if this always weighs upon one’s back like the Old Man of the Sea on the back of Sinbad, one is contriving one’s own burdens, which makes no sense at all.

  25. Ikonoclast
    November 26th, 2013 at 21:28 | #25

    @Tim Macknay

    I was being a little oblique. What I meant was that real world laws (the dependable laws discovered thus far by the hard sciences) operate independently of human opinions. What I meant was that it doesn’t matter what we think. What happens next will be entirely determined by real world forces.

  26. Ikonoclast
    November 26th, 2013 at 21:39 | #26

    @Julie Thomas

    Happiness, unhappiness or any feelings in between are not rational or irrational. They are a-rational. However, we all spend a lot of time rationalising feelings, me included. I tend to think that “alienation from nature” (a very vague and debatable phrase I know) begins with language. To possess and use language is to be alienated. However, when you see the horror at the heart of nature you begin to understand the choice for alienation.

  27. Ikonoclast
    November 26th, 2013 at 21:44 | #27

    @John Quiggin

    Your answer contains its own refutation.

    “It’s far more reasonable to blame the wars, revoluations and barbarian invasions of 1500-3000 years ago (of which there are a long list) on the environmental mismanagement that turned much of North Africa (once the breadbasket of Europe) into a desert, and deforested large parts of Greece.”

    And indeed I do blame those processes for the outcomes you correctly note. So if man of that era with far less instrumental power to damage the environment still had such an enormous regional effect, I wonder why you doubt that modern man with far greater instrumental power will have a similar global effect.

  28. Julie Thomas
    November 27th, 2013 at 06:39 | #28


    So it’s a choice you are making, to see “the horror at the heart of nature” rather than look for the other sights that one can see in nature.

    I have heard all the arguments about how an intelligent person can do nothing else but despair. My father spent many years explaining this to me before he killed himself; that was in the late 60’s and early 70’s when I was 19 and pregnant with his first grandchild.

    So I’m not arguing with your right to choose to be depressed; I do understand it. All will be well I guess, as long as you understand that you can choose to be something else, sometime soon anyway. 🙂

  29. Julie Thomas
    November 27th, 2013 at 06:48 | #29

    Ikon you say

    “What I meant was that real world laws (the dependable laws discovered thus far by the hard sciences) operate independently of human opinions. ”

    But humans are part of the real world and the way humans operate is entirely dependent on opinon.

  30. Ikonoclast
    November 27th, 2013 at 08:54 | #30

    I am not sure that free will is nearly as free as people (theists and humanists alike) assume. Whilst (macro) physics was viewed as deterministic it was difficult to see how free will could exist in a materially determined world. Once quantum indeterminacy was “discovered” or rather modelled and found to be useful and descriptive, the determinism problem appeared solved but only to be replaced by a new problem. It is difficult – in a different way – to model how free will arises out of indeterminancy. And at the macro level a probabilistic distribution begins to look exactly like determinancy which it is or at least it approaches.

    Even without going to the extreme of questioning free will altogether, we can see that individuals’ actions and freedoms are highly circumscribed by human biology, social position, genetic inheritance and so on. So, if forgiveness is in my (likely) predetermined repertoire I should forgive humans for wrecking the world. They really can’t help it.

  31. sunshine
    November 27th, 2013 at 09:35 | #31

    ‘ Infinite growth cant go on for very long’ seems like a truism to me .’How can intelligent people go along with that model ?’ is a good question – I think they either hope for scientific breakthroughs that help ,or they only intend to go along with it until everyone is lifted out of poverty (assuming there is enough time left to do that ), or a terrible misinformed nihilistic selfish reason. What gives me hope for humanities future kis that I know people can be happy with far less than they think they need and far far less than too many currently have .

    Iko – Language in general is something I know a bit about from a philosophy of language background .In this context it may not help much ,but it is possible (and I would argue very useful and ultimately unavoidable ) to define language much, much more broadly than you have .I think when you say ‘language’ you are referring only to spoken ,written, or thought words of ,in your case ,English . I hope more broadly conceived language would not seem to alienate you from nature but should bring you closer .Nature is horror and wonder. Words are just signs amongst so many other signs available to us sentient beings.

  32. November 27th, 2013 at 10:37 | #32

    (This is the sandpit, right? Yes? Good.) You know, depressed old people can have some strange effects on those around them. When I was young my parents never talked to me, which I can understand. I was an appalling conversationist back then. Still am really. But I did had an elderly babysitter who was so convinced that everything that was wrong with the world at the time was the result of how terrible young people were today that I just assumed things such as murder and other crimes were only recently invented by the young and didn’t occur in the past. Sure I’d heard of Jack the Ripper, but I just assumed that he (or possibly she now that I think about it) must have been the first murderer, and possibly suffering from premature youth. I was aware that there were wars in the past, but I didn’t think of them as large scale murder but more a form of very dangerous contact sport.

    The funny thing is, this elderly babysitter maintained her belief that young people were much more horrible than those in the past, despite having first hand knowledge of what many young people in Nazi Germany were up to in the 30s and 40s. It seems to me that if she had just used her cognitive powers to compare what she knew young people to be like in the past to young people at that point in time, she would have seen that despite their weed, and their free love, and their pokemon, they weren’t all that bad and would have saved herself a lot of concern and would have prevented a great deal of confusion in the lives of people around her. (Or at least one person anyway.)

  33. Donald Oats
    November 27th, 2013 at 12:58 | #33

    The “youth of today” meme is tenacious, and I’ll bet it originated some time back in the day of the first species of humanity that could speak.

    As for free will, I am inclined to view it as an illusion, but a beneficial one. It is entangled with our conscious processes, although it isn’t necessarily the case that consciousness should eventuate free will; perhaps the advent of a spoken language, combined with consciousness, admits an easy avenue for the illusion of free will to grip us; perhaps all that is necessary is the conscious ability to reflect upon possible futures and/or pasts, and to construct an internal narrative as to how we arrived at a particular action.

    There is plenty of fun to be had in starting with the premise “There is no free will in the usual sense intended,” and then to see how that might be so, without hurling out concepts like responsibility, culpability, choice, morality and ethics in general, etc. I liken it to the atheist position that “there is no god or supernatural world” and then seeing if a morality can be preserved in spite of that premise: the answer is that yes, a morality can be preserved, although it is no more or less secure/absolute/relative etc than a god-based morality. Being nice to others is entirely within a human’s grasp, with or without a god to watch over them.

    Back to work…

  34. Ikonoclast
    November 27th, 2013 at 13:39 | #34

    Forgetting the OT or even OTT side issues which I was guilty of starting in on…

    I would be interested in what evidence it would take to convince Tim McN and Prof J.Q. that;

    Exogenous factors of resource shortage were, beyond all reasonable doubt, dragging on or throttling global or regional economies independent of or at least in conjunction with the usual endogenous suspects?

    Above, I use “exogenous to the economy” to mean physical factor limits (raw materials and energy) completely outside the economy (until and at the point of drawing part of them into the economy).

    It is interesting to question how one would identify and diagnose that general locus. Clearly at the transition zone (assuming there is one or is to be one) there will be an area of uncertainty where it is difficult to discern whether problems internal to global capitalism itself are causing long recessions or whether it is the price and scarcity of key resources which is also contributing to on-going recessionary “drag”. If it is the latter, it is likely to be a new feature to orthodox economic analysis which is not geared to look outside the box. The “box” in this case is the self-contained, perpetual motion machine independent of environment which orthodox economics, at least in its bowdlerized and popularized form, considers the economy to be.

  35. Ikonoclast
    November 27th, 2013 at 14:09 | #35

    This is an informative short paper on energy issues from the point of view of human macroecology.


  36. Tim Macknay
    November 27th, 2013 at 14:14 | #36


    I would be interested in what evidence it would take to convince Tim McN and Prof J.Q. that;

    Exogenous factors of resource shortage were, beyond all reasonable doubt, dragging on or throttling global or regional economies independent of or at least in conjunction with the usual endogenous suspects?

    You’re going to need to be more specific than that. The comment is so vague, it’s not clear what you’re talking about. Convince us what, specifically?

  37. Ikonoclast
    November 27th, 2013 at 14:32 | #37

    I particularly endorse the scientist’s summary view;

    “Mainstream economists historically have dismissed warnings that resource shortages might permanently limit economic growth. Many believe that the capacity for technological innovation to meet the demand for resources is as much a law of human nature as the Malthusian-Darwinian dynamic that creates the demand (Barro and Sala-i-Martin 2003, Durlauf et al. 2005, Mankiw 2006). However, there is no scientific support for this proposition; it is either an article of faith or based on statistically flawed extrapolations of historical trends.”

    Prof. J.Q. will forgive I am sure if I accept the views of the scientists and not the mainstream economists on this issue. This is particularly so when mainstream economics itself stands indited of failing (and failing quite palpably and obviously when the Great Moderation failed) by none other than J.Q. himself on this very site. I am sure we all remember that blog post. That was a piece of laudable intellectual honesty, in case I sound too judgemental and triumphalist. Frankly, following that and all the scientific evidence available, I don’t see how my position is anything other than very well buttressed. It would stand (extremely likely) if I retreated from my absolute certainty claim to an extremely likely claim.

    OK, I do so. I hold that it is extremely likely (> 95% probability) that the global economy will suffer an enduring collapse this century due to resource shortages and/or other factors. “Enduring Collapse” I define as permanent or semi-permanent global recession/depression of a duration in the order of decades. This will be accompanied (extremely likely again) by a plateau and then drop in global population with the peak at about 2050 plus or minus a decade and the 2100 population at about 60% of the peak (this last percentage perhaps being a little optimistic).

  38. Ikonoclast
    November 27th, 2013 at 14:44 | #38

    Footnote: I will be extremely surprised if we have not entered what appears to be already a permanent global recession/depression by 2020 or 2025 at the very latest. Given standard longevity, and no untoward accidents or illnesses, Prof. J.Q. and I will each be around to claim victory or defeat in the debate as the case may be.

    It won’t be long now, as the monkey said when he got his tail caught in the chaff cutter.

  39. Tim Macknay
    November 27th, 2013 at 15:24 | #39

    I read the paper you linked to.

    It has some irritating aspects (such as the authors’ enthusiasm for a foolish analogy between the economy and a living organism), but I broadly agree with its general conclusions i.e. that continuous economic and population growth cannot occur indefinitely in a finite world, and that raising the living standards of most of the world’s population and catering for a larger population will require substantial increases in global energy consumption. Obviously, such a task is challenging, and may not be achieved. Of course, one doesn’t require a “human macroecology” analysis to tell us that. As sunshine said, it’s a truism.

    It’s also worth noting that (although they might well believe it, judging by the tone), the authors have enough sense not to state that collapse is inevitable, or that the world simply cannot find the energy supplies necessary to support the growth envisaged. They clearly recognise that their research doesn’t support such a conclusion.

    Prof. J.Q. will forgive I am sure if I accept the views of the scientists and not the mainstream economists on this issue.

    This is a little pretentious. Using the words “science” and “scientist” doesn’t magically confer infallibility on people or methods of analysis. Notwithstanding that I agree with the broad conclusions of the paper you linked to, it clearly has some significant flaws.

    For example, the authors make a bit of a fuss about the importance they attach to a foolish analogy between the economy and a biological organism – they say it is one of the main reasons for their conclusions. However, it doesn’t take much analysis to work out that such an analogy is far from compelling – economies have just as many qualities that radically differentiate them from biological entities as which make them similar. At best, the analogy is a way of illustrating a point, yet the authors treat it as a plank of their argument.

    For me, this insistence that economies are like organisms is a dogmatic belief that regularly appears in the literature of “ecologic economics” and similar disciplines (with which I’d include “human macrecology”) and which mark them out as something that falls well short of a mature science.

    The authors also rely on a great many sources who are clearly not scientists, such as Joseph Tainter, Thomas Malthus and Richard Heinberg (!). Most of the scientific references are concerned with animal biology, not the natural resources sciences or physics. In addition to the economy-organism analogy, the authors also use other concepts of dubious scientific validity, such as something they call the “Malthusian-Darwinian dynamic”.

    In short, notwithstanding the references to thermodynamics and biology, to the extent that this stuff is science, it’s social science. It sure ain’t Newtonian mechanics (and neither is footprint analysis). Its level of reliability should be judged accordingly.

  40. Hermit
    November 27th, 2013 at 15:28 | #40

    My hunch is that Ikonoclast is on the money. There have been predictions (eg Aleklett) that world oil exports will decline 40% between 2010 and 2020. Others (eg International Energy Agency) say there will be a slight increase in volume but we know the net energy (after ‘toil for oil’) must be declining. That decline affects everything from food production to the daily commute. I wouldn’t draw comfort from Australia’s recent energy ‘efficiency’ w.r.t. electricity since we’re talking cuts of under 10% not getting up to 40%.

    Late next year we should see a lot of angst over gas prices. Petrol should nudge $2/L even if it doesn’t we will be driving less. Then there is the cost of unhelpful weather. Each year we have about 200,000 new mouths to feed but the same amount of water in the rivers. Per capita demand reduction for transport and electricity will be swamped by population growth. Underemployment appears to be another increasing trend. By 2020 I think we’ll have more cures for cancer but the all fun stuff like driving and restaurant dining will be cut back. When this penny drops the political landscape will change dramatically.

  41. Jim Rose
    November 27th, 2013 at 15:33 | #41

    @Ikonoclast you must be investing your super in commodity futures?

  42. Tim Macknay
    November 27th, 2013 at 15:33 | #42

    I hold that it is extremely likely (> 95% probability) that the global economy will suffer an enduring collapse this century due to resource shortages and/or other factors.

    So where did the >95% probability come from? “Science”? Did it appear to you in a dream?

  43. Tim Macknay
    November 27th, 2013 at 15:44 | #43

    By 2020 I think we’ll have more cures for cancer but the all fun stuff like driving and restaurant dining will be cut back. When this penny drops the political landscape will change dramatically.

    Yes, there will probably be considerable pressure to introduce an amendment to the Australian Design Rules to make small, cheap electric cars street-legal. But it gets worse – I also suspect that some people (not you of course!) may even resort to riding bicycles or scooters (gasp!).

  44. Ikonoclast
    November 27th, 2013 at 16:25 | #44

    @Tim Macknay

    It’s my assessment given the robustness of LTG modelling, LTG Revisited, the LTG 30 year update and the complete inflexibility of all the basic physical and thermodynamic laws involved. Endless growth is absolutely impossible of course. And other scenarios of soft landings on sustainable plateaus involve a lot of wishful thinking, prevarication and deception of self and others. But go ahead and kid yourself silly. Don’t worry, be happy.

  45. Hermit
    November 27th, 2013 at 17:03 | #45

    @Tim Macknay
    For several years I rode my Apollo IV from outer Belconnen to the parliamentary triangle, even in heavy 7.30 am frosts. Now I live in the bush I make biodiesel out of used chip frying oil. We need separate roads for light vehicles and behemoths. Perhaps that’s what Abbott meant when he talked about roads fit for the 21st century.

  46. Julie Thomas
    November 27th, 2013 at 18:02 | #46

    @Donald Oats

    You are right, I remember reading that some of the first writing found in Sumeria, included complaints against the younger generation and how disruptive and badly behaved they were.

  47. Megan
    November 27th, 2013 at 18:23 | #47

    I was just reading a Piece by Chris Hedges which reminded me of the discussion taking place in this thread:

    Edelman noted the collective self-delusion that prohibited the Jews in the ghetto—as it prohibits us—from facing their fate, even as the transports were taking thousands daily to the Nazi death camp Treblinka. The Germans handed out oblong, brown loaves of rye bread to those lining up outside the trains. Those clutching the loaves, desperately hungry and overjoyed with receiving the food, willingly climbed into the railway carriages. In 1942 the underground sent a spy to follow the trains. He returned to the ghetto and reported, in the words of Krall’s book, that “every day a freight train with people would pass that way [to Treblinka] and return empty, but food supplies were never sent there.” His account was written up in the underground ghetto newspaper, but, as Edelman remarked, “nobody believed it.” “ ‘Have you gone insane?’ people would say when we were trying to convince them that they were not being taken to work,” Edelman remembered. “ ‘Would they be sending us to death with bread? So much bread would be wasted!’ ”

    I’m fortunate not to suffer depresion. I love and enjoy nature and, compared to so many people in the world, am very safe and comfortable. But I see some very big problems in our very near future (and beyond) which I can’t see real solutions to.

    Seriously destructive climate change would appear to be not only 95% ‘locked in’ but is already making impact and nothing is happening which will prevent it.

    The world economy is more or less run on fraud.

    Absent a new ‘Super Giant’ oilfield, peak oil is around about now (as others have noted).

    Democracy as practised today isn’t working the way it is supposed to.

    Far too much military gear exists for my liking, especially the stuff that makes very big noises and makes an awful mess.

    I’m all for optimism and hope but magical thinking I can’t get my head around.

  48. Tim Macknay
    November 27th, 2013 at 18:25 | #48


    It’s my assessment given the robustness of LTG modelling, LTG Revisited, the LTG 30 year update and the complete inflexibility of all the basic physical and thermodynamic laws involved.

    Since the Meadows Report and subsequent follow-ups didn’t assign probabilities to any of the modelled scenarios, I take this to mean you just made it up.

    And other scenarios of soft landings on sustainable plateaus involve a lot of wishful thinking, prevarication and deception of self and others.

    Does this include scenarios 8 and 9 in the LTG 30 year update? If so, what makes you regard those scenarios as “wishful thinking” and “deception” and the others as robust? What about the 30 Year Update’s general conclusions from its final four scenarios? Do you think those are wishful thinking as well?

    Also, what makes you so convinced of the robustness of scenario planning, and the robustness of LTG’s specific scenarios in particular? Do you think there are other possible scenarios? If not, why not? If yes, what probabilities would you assign to them and why?

    I agree that the laws of thermodynamics and other basic physical laws are inflexible, but why do you think this is this relevant? Surely the relevant considerations are the reliability of the various figures used to estimate growth rates, available resources, production, pollution and so forth. “Basic physical laws”, while obviously applying at all times, don’t really figure in the analysis at all.

    But go ahead and kid yourself silly. Don’t worry, be happy.

    I’m not sure what this remark is in aid of. It’s neither evidence or an argument, and it doesn’t support your viewpoint.

    Are you going to clarify what you were asking at #36?

  49. iain
    November 27th, 2013 at 18:41 | #49

    “Also, what makes you so convinced of the robustness of scenario planning, and the robustness of LTG’s specific scenarios in particular?”

    Tim – have you compared LtG standard run with actual results?

    I doubt it, because if you did, you would not be so chirpy?


  50. Tim Macknay
    November 27th, 2013 at 19:20 | #50

    Yes, I have read that. It’s interesting.

    But where have I been “chirpy”?

    I confess to being a little frustrated that, from my perspective, all I have done is criticise Ikon’s level of certainty (i.e. his absolute certainty, now conveniently revised to “95%”) about future events, and his claim that scenario planning, footprint analysis and other methods of estimating environmental impacts and sustainability on the macro scale are as reliable as basic physical laws (which is just silly, IMHO – these methods are valuable, but they’re just not that precise).

    In return, Ikon has gish-galloped all over the place, going from a “scientific certainty” of global catastrophic collapse, to linking the current European economic malaise with an incipient global catastrophe, to annual predictions of his own death and the heat death of the universe (!) and back to a more specific scenario (i.e. 95% certainty of a ‘permanent or semi-permanent global recession/depression of a duration in the order of decades’).

    Yet you, Ikon and Megan are all responding as if by querying this level of certainty, I’m insisting on some Julian Simonesque glorious future of space colonies and personal jetpacks (I assume Megan’s jibe about magical thinking was directed at me).

    To quote Megan from an earlier thread: “Can’t we do ‘cautiously concerned’ anymore?

  51. alfred venison
    November 27th, 2013 at 19:50 | #51

    nicely put, Megan . thank you. -a.v.

  52. Tim Macknay
    November 27th, 2013 at 19:55 | #52

    @alfred venison
    So which of my comments do you think is akin to “magical thinking” or the self-delusion of a ghetto-dweller in denial about Treblinka?

  53. Megan
    November 27th, 2013 at 20:04 | #53

    @Tim Macknay

    You’d assume wrongly in that case.

    Over a few threads in recent weeks there has been a rough divide between “doomers” and “cornucopians” (to use the two quite unhelpful labels applied over the years to these sorts of discussions). ‘Magical Thinking’ is directed generally at things that tend toward, although not necessarily to the extreme of, things like glorious future of space colonies.

    I perceived Ikon’s “95%” to be a concession away from the “certainty” which seemed to cause such a stir previously.

    Since you appear to concede at least the possibility of serious disruption, and since it appears that probability or levels of “certainty” is what’s bothering you: What is your rough outlook percentage wise?

  54. Tim Macknay
    November 27th, 2013 at 20:31 | #54

    Chance of “serious disruption”: better than 50%.

  55. alfred venison
    November 27th, 2013 at 20:44 | #55

    sorry, Tim, i didn’t mean to buy in to some on-going debate regarding degrees of realistic/unrealistic optimism. i must say i am guilty of not reading all of the thread, so mea culpa.

    i will say briefly that i agree with megan’s dot points and i harbour a deeply pessimistic view which i have carried since ’09. the stuff about the holocaust i read as a baroque flourish, i was not aware it was directed to you specifically.

    as i have throughout my life been predisposed to cautious optimism, i live in hope growing fainter by the year, that the race will survive the century, and that by some unfathomable quirk the optimism of other people will sustain us in sensible form long enough to muddle through.

    so, to stay out of the way of others, who, in good faith, are able to find their way to be optimistic, i don’t usually talk about it.

    sorry if i upset you.
    alfred venison

  56. Ikonoclast
    November 27th, 2013 at 21:09 | #56

    @Tim Macknay

    Hmmm, where to start?

    “Since the Meadows Report and subsequent follow-ups didn’t assign probabilities to any of the modelled scenarios, I take this to mean you just made it up.”

    Equally, I can say your “cautious concern” and your rationales for adopting this equivocating position are “just made up”. What quantitative data do you have to support what is implicitly a 50-50 position? How did you do your probabilistic assessment for this 50-50 position or did you just make it up?

    Cautious concern can be and often is code for “give it lip service, appear enlightened and then proceed with business as usual.”

    With regard to scenarios we must first start with what is an undeniable law in the known universe. Growth cannot continue indefinitely in a finite system. The corollary: Growth (of any entity or sub-system) in a finite system must eventually cease. For the time being we can limit growth to mean growth in human population and growth in human built and maintained systems (infrastructure etc.).

    Thus growth must cease sooner or later. There are three broad ways in which growth could cease. The rationale for this broad categorisation is based on likely negative impacts on humans and human civilization of benign, moderate and catstrophic respectively.

    1. Plateau at a permanently sustainable level (plus or minus some small allowance for fluctuations over time, let us say plus or minus 5%). (Benign or minimal negative impacts.)

    2. A peak followed by a slow, relatively well-managed decline to something a bit off peak (maybe 10% to 20% below peak). This would equate to a slight to moderate overshoot followed by a mostly human managed correction that saves most of the situation whilst minimising harm and suffering. (Moderate negative impacts.)

    3. A peak followed by a steep decline (maybe but not necessarily a so-called Seneca Cliff). This equates to a serious overshoot of earth’s carrying capacity (with regard to its capacity to carry a large human population supportable only by widespread industrial agriculture and other energy intensive industrial systems). This serious overshoot is followed by a correction essentially enforced by the laws of physics, ecology, biology, physiology etc. and not able to be managed or prevented in the circumstances by man and all his technologies.

    I take it you accept that growth (of any entity or sub-system) in a finite system must eventually cease. Thus you must accept at least one of the above three scenarios must occur or that any one of three could occur with varying degrees of probability. Opting for option 1 as likely or most likely means (in my opinion) ignoring all the very considerable existent evidence, data and various assessments quantitative, probabilistic and qaulitative that we are already in overshoot. In my opinion there is a vanishingly small probability that we are not already in overshoot.

    How do I support this contention that “there is a vanishingly small probability that we are not already in overshoot”. For brevity’s sake I will list the issues already becoming very concerning and problematic without adding attendant evidence. You will be aware enough of the issues and evidence to be convinced (I think) that these are all already serious concerns. Here goes in no particular order;

    Climate change.
    Ocean acidification.
    Wild fisheries collapse.
    Sea level rise.
    Earth in 6th mass extinction event of last 500 million yrs this one with no cause but man.
    Peak oil (about 2005)
    Peak fossil fuel energy (about 2015 to 2025 on most current measures)
    Possible peak exergy crisi (energy available for useful work) 2005 – 2050?
    Expanding world water crisis (fresh water available for human use).
    Arable land crisis.
    Topsoil (loss of) crisis.
    Looming peak minerals crisis (for a number of critical minerals and rare earths and even things like helium and phosphorous).

    Given that we are still growing exponentially at a time when all the above and much more are manifesting as CURRENT problems (not future problems), the thesis that we are already in overshoot (heavily dependent upon and rapidly drawing down finite stocks and/or rapidly filling up heat and waste sinks) has realistically only a vanishingly small chance of being incorrect. Believing anything else is as I say essentially wishful thinking which ignores all extant evidence.

    That leaves only two probable scenarios. The “late save and managed contraction” to which I assign us maybe a 1 chance in 20 of achieving. This leaves about a 95% chance of a collapse (as I have defined it) and maybe even a Seneca Cliff event.

    Now you can gish-gallop and equivocate yourself with your completely made up implied 50-50 cautious appraisal that there might be some danger over the hill somewhere or you can admit to your view the veritable mountain of evidence rearing up that we are already in overshoot mode right now. Frankly, your position requires a lot of current very alarming evidence to be completely ignored or heavily downplayed. My position takes stock of that evidence and applies it logically.

    Frankly, I am astonished by what a minority position the acceptance of LTG theory has even among intelligent, educated and scientifically literate people. The basic principles are very simple and completely irrefutable. The data ffor supporting an overshoot position right now are also very close to irrefutable. This phenomenon of denial is testament to most people’s inability to assess data and accept conclusions which imply a serious threat to their physical and psychological security; a clear case of not having the courage to face the truth. The deep denial you and others are in is testament to this fact.

  57. Megan
    November 27th, 2013 at 21:13 | #57

    @alfred venison

    Thanks. Glad you appreciated it in the way it was intended.

    It wasn’t directed at anybody.

  58. November 27th, 2013 at 21:28 | #58

    Tim, you may find this wikipedia article interesting:


  59. Megan
    November 27th, 2013 at 23:12 | #59

    @Tim Macknay


    And roughly what is against “serious disruption” on the ‘less than 50% chance’ side?

  60. Tim Macknay
    November 27th, 2013 at 23:34 | #60

    Happy to admit I just made up the “better than 50%” figure (I didn’t say 50:50). Megan asked for a probabilistic assessment, so I gave her one. I don’t really think probability figures can be meaningfully applied to future scenarios in this way, although the “better than 50%” does convey my sense that a bad outcome is quite likely. I was probably a little bit sniffy about your 95%, although I guess I was reacting to your implication that your level of certainty was based on infallible physical science.

    Cautious concern can be and often is code for ‘give it lip service, appear enlightened and then proceed with business as usual’

    Well, it was Megan’s phrase, not mine, and my impression is that she’s more in agreement with you than me. 😉
    But seriously, it’s interesting the degree of mutual incomprehension that comes up in these debates. For example, one of the things that grates for me about the “doom is inevitable” point of view is that I tend to think it promotes business as usual by destroying any motivation for trying to achieve positive change and encouraging the view that one should ‘get yours while the going is good’ and that the most rational course of action is to position yourself to be one of the overlords in the new feudal order when TSHTF, so to speak. Not that I think you believe that, of course.

    Regarding your list, yes I generally agree they’re all serious issues. I personally probably wouldn’t rate the physical resource issues as being as serious as the biological/ecological ones (I’m unconvinced that peak oil is actually a negative, for example). In the sense that the rates of exploitation of many of these resources cannot continue to grow or even be maintained at their current level for much longer, yes, I agree we are in overshoot. Global warming, certainly, represents a catastrophic risk. I’m close to 100% certain that the human population will peak and decline in this century, although I think there are a number of ways that may come about, not all catastrophic.

    I broadly agree with your two plausible scenarios, although I personally wouldn’t assign probabilities with the same degree of confidence. I generally agree with the view of Dennis Meadows that we probably can turn it around, but things will need to get worse before we wake up.

    Your position requires a lot of current very alarming evidence to be completely ignored or heavily downplayed. My position takes stock of that evidence and applies it logically.

    I disagree that “my position” requires a lot of evidence to be ignored or downplayed, unsurprisingly. I’m not entirely sure what you think “my position” is, to be honest.

    The deep denial you and others are in is a testament to that fact.

    Also unsurprisingly, I don’t think I’m in denial. Although I think I called you deluded further up the thread, so I probably had that one coming. It’s evident that we differ, though, on the extent to which LTG and related theories represent confirmed physical science as opposed to scientifically informed conjectures. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on that.

    It seems to me the discussion is at risk of becoming a little heated and personal, so I’ll say this – not withstanding our occasional stoushes Ikon, I value your contributions. I acknowledge that there are reasons to be pessimistic, and that a pessimistic outlook is not in itself unreasonable. I’m pessimistic to varying degrees myself, depending on the day. I’m not entirely sure why the doom stuff pushes my buttons – I guess it’s partly the demotivating thing I mentioned above, and partly “but someone is wrong on the Internet”. It was my intention to argue respectfully, and if I have not done so, and have unintentionally offended you, please accept my apologies.

  61. Tim Macknay
    November 27th, 2013 at 23:53 | #61


    And roughly what is against “serious disruption” on the ‘less than 50% chance’ side?

    “Muddling through”, I guess. Or “late save and managed decline”, as Ikon put it. Although all this is so vague that what I’d call “muddling through” could be someone else’s “serious disruption”, and vice versa. And, acknowledging the general uncertainty around all this, a very slim but non-zero possibility of “unexpectedly happy outcome”.

    How about you. What are your spurious probability numbers?

  62. Megan
    November 28th, 2013 at 00:13 | #62

    @Tim Macknay

    I found the context of my quote you refer to above. It was a post here in 2011 by JQ about “peak oil”.

    Why does everything need to be divided into two teams with “Cornucopians” on one side and “Doomers” on the other? Can’t we do “cautiously concerned” anymore?

    You have an interesting turn of phrase. I like your apology to Ikon “…if I have not done so, and have unintentionally offended you, please accept my apologies.”

    That leaves the intentional offence just hanging there, don’t you think?

    On the point at hand, this is how I see things:

    1. My short list above (climate change etc…), and the longer lists provided by others about very serious and relatively imminent problems we might have;

    2. Huge argument about the use of the word “certain”;

    3. After a lot of argument “certain” is replaced by “95%” and the reply to that is “greater than 50%”;

    4. On the one hand we have a list of things which everyone seems to more or less agree are ‘real’ and ‘serious’ and quite proximate, and on the other hand we have the reason we should not be too negative about those things:

    a) being negative plays into the hands of BAU by causing hopelessness;
    b) anyway, we’ll ‘muddle’ through…or something, or there may even be an unexpectedly happy outcome.

    To answer your question directly: I don’t have any spurious probability numbers.

  63. Tim Macknay
    November 28th, 2013 at 01:05 | #63


    That leaves the intentional offence just hanging there, don’t you think?

    I don’t know where that’s coming from. What intentional offence? Your comment seems like an accusation.

    Are you offended that I quoted you? I didn’t quote you out of context, I quoted you because I agreed with the sentiment. What’s the problem?

  64. Tim Macknay
    November 28th, 2013 at 01:22 | #64

    Also, what’s with the misrepresentation of my opinions?

  65. Hermit
    November 28th, 2013 at 06:34 | #65

    Those who would seem to deny LTG must include enthusiasts for a ‘Big Australia’. By word or deed that would seem to include Tony Abbott, Rupert Murdoch, Kevin Rudd and Bill Shorten. This week’s population projections by the ABS seem to convey a hint of glee, as if the government is egging them on. Public figures who seem to oppose Big Australia are fewer in number, for example Julia Gillard and Dick Smith.

    Become an Aussie and you cause 20 tonnes a year of CO2 and divert .9 megalitres of fresh water. I’d say the boat people have weighed up resource frugality vs. lavishness and act accordingly.

  66. alfred venison
    November 28th, 2013 at 06:49 | #66

    For example, one of the things that grates for me about the “doom is inevitable” point of view is that I tend to think it promotes business as usual by destroying any motivation for trying to achieve positive change

    which is why i tend to keep my views about it to myself. nevertheless, i think there will be an rise in depression in the community as more people come to realise that it really is happening and that carrying on as we have means we may miss the train. -a.v.

  67. Ikonoclast
    November 28th, 2013 at 07:00 | #67

    General comments. Tim Macknay doesn’t owe me any apologies. He argued his position robustly and called me out for pulling a probability number out of my ****. That’s fair enough.

    He was calling me on my propensity for dogmatic certainty in this debate. It is a little hard for me to convey precisely why I feel so certain about my position in this debate. I am a literalist and a materialist in this particular arena of thinking. I look at humans and the economy and see nothing but material processes going on; with these processes being carried out by animals much like any other animals.

    These processes (of the economy) I see as wholly governed by the laws of physics in general and the laws of thermodynamics in particular. At the same time, I call humans “animals” in this context not to be pejorative but to be accurate. I think we “mythologise” or “mystify” ourselves tending to presume that we are somehow special and that the laws, physical and biological, which apply to other animals don’t apply to us. In particular, modern humans seem to mystify, reify or “essentialise” (converse tendencies to some extent) supposed characteristics like ingenuity and a presumed specialness which somehow puts us in a category where we stand outside and above nature and natural forces. I think this narcissistic and hubristic tendency is at the heart of our not being able to assess ourselves and our position in nature more accurately. I see us as wholly enmeshed in, governed by and conditioned by natural forces.

    It is worth re-examining in this context an aphorism or two put forward by Francis of Veralum (Francis Bacon).

    “Human knowledge and human power meet in one; for where the cause is not known the effect cannot be produced. Nature to be commanded must be obeyed; and that which in contemplation is the cause is in operation as the rule.”

    “Towards the effecting of works, all that man can do is to put together or put asunder natural bodies. The rest is done by nature working within.”

    The above places human conceptual power and technological power in its proper setting as not something above and outside nature but as inside nature and wholly ruled and governed by the laws of nature. There is a proper humility in understanding that we don’t make things work. There is a nice and complete precision in understanding that ALL we do is “put together or put asunder natural bodies”. For “bodies” we could now read materials and forces or energies. the rest is “nature working within” and we don’t know why nature exists or why it works.

    This “proper humility” or respect for nature might be religious or spiritual or (as in my case) it might really be just a form of humanist enlightened self-interest. Lack of respect or due notice for very powerful forces and reactions (“against” our actions) is likely to be very injurious to the health. Lack of respect and notice for our dependent and contingent status within nature leads to fundamental mistakes. At the same time, I concede that once commenced on a technological path it is hard to see how we could have avoided many of our mistakes. It would have taken superhuman foresight and superhuman renunciation of hopes and possibilities.

    Be that as it may we are now at a fairly mature stage of science, technology and philosophy of science. We now understand that nature is not neatly mechanistic and determinstic (as was believed before the Theories of Relativity, Quantum theory and Chaos Theory. We now understand that natural systems and life systems will complexly evolve new states, new systems and new emergent properties and behaviours when we “interfere” or interact with them with the agency of technology. We now understand the guaranteed arrival of new unforeseen consequences.

    Whilst I am not mechanistic or deterministic in my overall philsophy I do hold that there is an arena of macro phenomena governed by probabalistic patterns which amount to a kind of determinism or approximate to determinism. Genuine random numbers in a range, generated by radioactive decay, by the inherent uncertainty in the quantum mechanical laws of nature, could conceivably be used to model a coin toss (a 50-50 event) for actual coin tosses are almost certainly not truly random. The general or pattern outcome can be tested by many “coin tosses” and what emerges is a determined or deterministic probabilistic pattern if I may call it that.

    In the same manner, I hold that the outcome of the “many coin tosses” we are now taking with nature (very strained analogy at this point to bridge and abridge a long argument) is becoming more and more strongly determined. To give one example, the increasing levels of CO2 are more and more increasingly weighted or biased coin tosses for global warming and all the attendant phenomena which follow in its train. Continuing exponential growth at a time when some scientists with considerable justification can point to signs of limits approaching and being quite near (resource supply limits and waste sink limits) is again more and more increasingly weighted or biased coin tosses for trouble, for hitting the wall.

    The question whether panicked doom-mongering (my mode) or cautious concern or even unconcern are more likely to generate inertia by anything from fatalism to complacency is an interesting one. My assessment is that BAU (Business As Usual) is an omnivore. It feeds off everything. The bottom line (and here I get ideological) is that BAU is late stage, corporate oligarchic capitalism. This is not a system geared to listening to democracy or the concerns of the many or concerns about natural limits. It is a system geared to grow, accelerate and perpetuate as if there are no limits.

    Given the nature and momentum of the system I hold that the juggernaut will continue until natural limits halt it or until (most optimistic assessment) the damage and danger become so manifest and obvious that a general outcry (code for revolution possibly) leads to fundamental changes in the system. My fear is we will go over the Seneca cliff or something like it even if we have already engaged the brakes. The momentum of our system is enormous.

  68. Ken Fabian
    November 28th, 2013 at 07:30 | #68

    Tim said –

    …one of the things that grates for me about the “doom is inevitable” point of view is that I tend to think it promotes business as usual by destroying any motivation

    Where is the turnaround point of likelihood for doom becoming inevitability of doom? It seems to be at least as much about perceptions about the response to the problem as the problem itself.

    Failure to appreciate the potential for doom is de-motivating and this is being used deliberately by vested interests; climate science denial and the promotion of doubt de-motivates and these are being used aggressively and successfully by powerful interests at a mainstream political level. I think this in large part creates the conditions for the sense of powerlessness that makes doom seem inevitable. Which the same interests are very willing to use to the same purpose; ie to de-motivate. The former de-motivates the uninformed, uncommitted and unconcerned, turning them into opponents of action. The latter de-motivates the informed, concerned and committed but it works because of the success of the former, not it’s creator. In the absence of organised and embedded denial and obstructionism concern for damaging outcomes would be a strong motivator.

    Climate science denial within mainstream politics – not alarmism – is at the core of government inability to do the minimum necessary.

  69. alfred venison
    November 28th, 2013 at 07:32 | #69

    BAU is late stage, corporate oligarchic capitalism. This is not a system geared to listening to democracy or the concerns of the many or concerns about natural limits. It is a system geared to grow, accelerate and perpetuate as if there are no limits.

    that is something that worries me a lot. it is also profoundly anti-democratic. i think if we don’t get a grip on things that the nation state will be extinct by the end of the century and a fascistic corporate state likely manifest as illiberal democracy will supplant it. i think it will happen over the resources material and financial necessary for aiding the population in climate catastrophes which will increasingly lay with corporations as nation states are systematically starved of funds in the name of freeing the market. it will happen passively or aggressively but it looms large as we keep empowering them at the expense of us as an existential crisis bears down on us. -a.v.

  70. Ikonoclast
    November 28th, 2013 at 08:13 | #70

    Yes, I support the nation state and large, democratic government for a number of reasons. I agree with Churchill that it is “the worst system except for every other system”. The most likely alternatives to the modern democratic nation state are corporatism, the police state, anarchy or warlordism. I do have some sympathy for Americans who hate government. This has occurred because their government is so bad (in some but not all respects) and their consitution is so bad (written by slave owning landed gentry to protect the rights of slave owning landed gentry and now operating in the interests of modern oligarchs).

    We are now transitioning from democratic government to corporate governance of our society via corporate control of the economy and the locking out of government from oversight, command, control and management. This not freedom. This is the transfer of the power to run our society from the elected government to the board room and rich oligarchs.

    It is very concerning tha the three greatest powers in the world are;

    1. A corporate oligarchic state (USA).
    2. A corporate one party state (China).
    3. A Chekist State (Russia).

    None of them are even nearly genuinely democratic. The USA is the closest being quasi-democratic in effect for perhaps the socio-economic upper half of its population. But the USA is moving rapidly in the wrong direction. And we see plenty of Chekist apparatus in China and now arising in the USA (meaning secret police, extra-legal powers and surveillance powers).

  71. Tim Macknay
    November 28th, 2013 at 11:47 | #71

    Thanks Ikon. I agree with all the comments about the general political-economic trend, which certainly reduces the chances of these issues being addressed.

    Ken Fabian, I agree that failure to appreciate the possibility of doom can also be demotivating.

  72. Jim Rose
    November 28th, 2013 at 17:37 | #72

    @Ikonoclast The strength of democracy is a small group of concerned and thoughtful citizens can band together and change things by running for office and winning elections.

    That is how new parties such as the ALP, the country party, DLP, and greens changed Australia. One Nation even had its 15 minutes of fame. look at the state and federal upper houses

    The ALP immediately won many seats and formed governments a few years later. Those agrarian socialists in the country party immediate secured cabinet seats.

    Over the 20th century, the state grew from a night watchmen size to account for 1/3rd to ½ of GDP with a generous welfare stat because this was popular with the median voter.

    • Communists were elected to 40 odd parliaments including in Europe and Japan.

    • The Trots put up a good show in French presidential races. Sadly, the English Trots get less votes than the monster raving loony party head to head.

    You may find democracy frustrating not because parliaments cannot change things.

    You may find democracy frustrating because you cannot win at the ballot box even under proportional representation in federal and state upper houses.

    When the shooters party, new DLP and the family and Christian parties win seats ahead of you, it is time to accept that your message simply does not resonate with the 99% of the electorate. Complete amateurs can win seats.

  73. Fran Barlow
    November 28th, 2013 at 18:04 | #73

    @Jim Rose

    I’m sure you’ve posted this before. It was poorly argued then and the redux hasn’t improved it.

    This sentence is obviously one you like:

    it is time to accept that your message simply does not resonate with the 99% of the electorate.

    but it obviously misses the point. Whether messages “resonate” (ugh at the well-worn phrase) is a question that is entirely secondary to the utility of the message. Messages that “resonate” with people who are fools or malign or both and that are vacuous and incapable of being mapped to useful public policies and which end up merely reinforcing the interests of the privileged and/or subvert the common good ought to be discarded rather than held up as wisdom. The mindless search for “resonance” through focus groups was and is one of our system’s worst features.

    I’m not surprised that complete amateurs can win seats, but those complete amateurs will, at best, be irrelevant, when they are not playing a minor part in authoring poor policy. Those who argue for worthy policy but miss out can at worst be confident they have done no harm and may one day be listened to. But our reactionary airheads? They shame themselves and us with their conduct.

    It’s also unsurprising that you, an avowed enemy of equity, see this shame as a badge of authenticity.

  74. Jim Rose
    November 28th, 2013 at 19:56 | #74

    @Fran Barlow how did you rise above the madding crowd and lose your false consciousness ?

  75. November 28th, 2013 at 21:26 | #75

    Tim, earlier you used the quote, “Can’t we do ‘cautiously concerned’ anymore?”

    I’m afraid the answer to that often is no. There are a good many people who will not accept ‘cautiously concerned’ and who will instead regard your caution as abominable. And the reason why is because of Dungeons and Dragons. Well, not Dungeons and Dragons specifically, but fantasy role playing in general. You see, just about everyone enjoys slaying monsters because we like to feel as though we are heroes. But because of this people easily fall into the trap of deceiving themselves. You see, the bigger the monster we fight is, the bigger the hero we feel ourselves to be, so some people exaggerate the size of the monster they are fighting in order to make themselves feel more heroic. And if you dare to point out that the monster isn’t really quite as large as they say it is, they will feel as though you are attacking them and trying to take away their feeling of heroism. And who would do such a terrible thing? Why only a monster of course! And so you will become their enemy and they will ascribe to you the sorts of beliefs they think their enemy has regardless of whether or not there is any evidence of you having them or even if you have given plenty of evidence of not having them. Basically they will demonise you because the more demonic you are they better they must be for opposing you, and it won’t matter if you’re not actually against them.

  76. Fran Barlow
    November 28th, 2013 at 22:14 | #76

    @Jim Rose

    You’ll need to better than conjure lame strawmen, Jim. You’re the one citing as exemplary the appeal of the cognitively unaccomplished to the ethically and intellectually indolent.

    Warrant that if you can. Test your own ability to trigger ‘resonance’.

  77. Ikonoclast
    November 29th, 2013 at 15:18 | #77

    For anyone who wants to wade through it, some interesting data about “peak fossil fuels”.


    The exponential (indeed near vertical now) rise in the cost of exploratory wells is interesting. Not only is solar becoming a lot cheaper, finding oil is becoming a lot dearer.

    That said, can we replace all fossil fuels with solar and wind power in a workable timeframe without economic disruptions? Also, will the lower EROEI of solar/wind, maybe 10:1 compared to the heyday of oil (100:1) be any kind of noticeable drag on the economy? Could we expect energy to cost roughly ten times as much in real terms with this feeding through in some proportion to the cost of all other goods and services?

  78. Hermit
    November 29th, 2013 at 16:11 | #78

    I think the answer is it takes decades and a small rich population to adjust to very high energy prices. Some have argued a mixed economy needs energy primary sources with an EROEI >8. Below that is the ‘cliff’ that takes us back to pre-industrial times.

    Tim Flannery and others are confident that difficult problems like large scale energy storage will be solved. What if it isn’t? If world population was say 1 billion and we had trillions in spare cash we could cope with existing limitations. AGW would not yet be a major problem so we could cope. Since more and more of us want all mod cons in a fast shrinking window to make the necessary changes I think things will be crook. This will be crystal clear by 2020 or so.

  79. Megan
    November 29th, 2013 at 19:28 | #79


    Below that is the ‘cliff’ that takes us back to pre-industrial times.

    Spot on.

    In the future it is almost certain that there will be all imaginable creature comforts – high quality gourmet foods, luxurious homes & transport, fine artworks & music, doctors & medicines, sport & entertainment and all the energy necessary to run those things (for the people who have them).

    Of course “we” probably won’t be the ones who have those things and “our” lives will likely be far more comparable to the feudal peasants than it is to today’s middle-class.

    When the going gets tough the 1% get what they want and the rest…. well, they’ll get by, or not.

  80. Jim Rose
    November 29th, 2013 at 20:04 | #80

    @Ikonoclast how would you rebalance your portfolio to take advantage of these trends

  81. Ikonoclast
    November 29th, 2013 at 21:00 | #81

    @Jim Rose

    No idea m8. I have a defined benefit scheme and no investments other than a house to live in. I know as much about investment portfolios as I know about string theory. Anway, I already have too much to eat, too many rooms to vacuum and more classics than I can ever read. Why would I need more of anything?

  82. Megan
    November 29th, 2013 at 22:24 | #82

    The ALP is rotten to the core, what with the CIA ‘Protect’ stooges and the real white-anter neo-liberals.

    This Fairfax piece may be part of Abetz’s drive to destroy unions altogether, but as I’ve said many times before – they brought this upon themselves.

    The Fairfax investigation found that in 2010 the TWU orchestrated a covert campaign against its own Queensland branch then led by veteran left-wing leader Hughie Williams.

    The Queensland push resulted in the transfer of the TWU’s factional support in the ALP from the Left to Bill Shorten’s AWU-dominated Right faction.

    Insiders have detailed how the campaign was orchestrated by the office of national secretary and ALP deputy president Tony Sheldon, and the union’s NSW branch, with the support of then HSU leader Michael Williamson.

    The campaign was overseen in Brisbane by a team – described as a ”hit squad” by a senior Labor MP – of interstate union and Labor operatives, including from the offices of Labor MPs, among them federal opposition frontbencher David Feeney.

    Can’t see anything but good coming from the collapse of the faux-left stranglehold of the ‘Right Wing” unions on the ALP.

  83. Ikonoclast
    November 30th, 2013 at 06:40 | #83


    I agree, the ALP is indeed rotten to the core. The Union Movement also appears to have gone totally rotten. I used to be a strong unionist. Even in my day it was becoming clear that “professional” union officials were poisoning the union movement, manipulating members and votes. They were (and still are) operating in a manner where power games looking upwards were the issue and adherence to genuine worker issues and interests was the last order of the day.

    LNP are blatantly the party for the big end of town (the rich 1%) and Labor are covertly the party for the big end of town. Some choice!

  84. Jim Rose
    November 30th, 2013 at 08:18 | #84

    @Ikonoclast perhaps you should donate more to charity as you say you have more than enough savings

  85. Julie Thomas
    November 30th, 2013 at 08:36 | #85

    Jim, perhaps you should wonder who is going to look after you when you get so demented and doddery that you cannot wipe your own arse.

    Will you need a charity or will you be able to pay for a nurse who won’t spit in your meals because you are a nasty old sod?

    Where will the nice caring nurses come from when the poor people are totally dis-empowered through the war on the poor? When everyone is indoctrinated with your selfish greedy ideology, how much will you pay for a greedy selfish nurse?

  86. Ikonoclast
    November 30th, 2013 at 09:39 | #86

    @Jim Rose

    My designated charities, under strict orders from the good wife, are our tertiary student children. We had children very late. In particular, I will be paying off a good proportion of their HECs debts so they don’t start adult working life already burdened with debt because of the lunatic neoliberal ideology which so infests our nation and economy. My first duty is to see my children aren’t screwed by this system which is so adept at screwing 95% of the population.

  87. November 30th, 2013 at 13:29 | #87

    Ikonoclast, as far as the welfare of your family is concerned, don’t pay off your children’s HECs debt. The reason why you shouldn’t is because the interest rate on a HECs loan is equal to the CPI and so is quite low. This means that any investment that gives a better return than CPI is better than paying off HECs. Instead of paying paying your children’s HECs debt off directly you could put the money in a term deposit, use the interest and principle from that to meet a child’s minimum HECs repayment and then when the HECs debt is paid off you could give that child a gift of thousands of dollars that would still be left. But much better than a term deposit would be an index share fund as it will average much better return than a term deposit. A share market fund is variable, but that’s okay, your children are young. If the market falls, as does now and then, they will have plenty of time for it to rise again. Now you might say that you don’t know anything about indexed stockmarket fun and so don’t want to try that, but I think one of the best things parents can financially do for their children (and perhaps themselves) is give them a $5,000 indexed Australian share fund so they can get a feel for how the stock market works and become comfortable with it and use the experience they gain to make better investment decisions in the future. I now wish I had done this for my parents. It probably would have saved them thousands of dollars in fees from shyster investment advisors.

    Of course, rather than just straight out investing in index funds, you can use investment-fu to help your children make good financial decisions and encourage them to make purchases and do things that will save them and their families money. For example you could offer to pay for half the cost of a rooftop solar system and all the cost of an isolation switch for it, as this will save them money on their electricity bills and give them power during grid failures. Paying for something like insulation is also a gift that keeps on giving.

  88. Jim Rose
    December 1st, 2013 at 15:18 | #88

    @Ikonoclast a nice summary of adam smith’s theory of moral sentiments and how generosity and sympathy for others drops away rapidly with social distance.

  89. Fran Barlow
    December 3rd, 2013 at 09:11 | #89

    HT LarvatusProdeo.net

    A German company is developing relatively large scale battery storage (up to 10MW-sized battery parks) which could “stabilise the grid faster, cheaper and with greater precision that conventional generation.”

    It says that these systems can substitute 10 times the capacity from conventional generation – coal, nuclear and gas – and at a fraction of the cost. According to Younicos spokesman Philip Hiersemenzel, each battery park can be installed at around € 15 million, which means that for an investment of €3 billion, conventional generation in Germany’s 80GW would no longer be needed – at least for frequency and stability purposes.

  90. Fran Barlow
    December 3rd, 2013 at 10:20 | #90

    This is interesting:


    As someone from Salon pointed out, in the US corporations assert the right to personhood, but chimpanzees are mere chattel.

    Indeed, I’d add that a corporation can own a chimpanzee, but a chimpanzee can’t own a corporation. Well a guy in a monkey suit might, but he’d be a fake

    Apparently the idea of personhood for chimpanzees is incipiently hazardous to humans but personhood for corporations — not so much.

    Ah mass culture — the lack of introspection is breathtaking.

    The proponents of the suit for chimpanzees argue for imprisoned primates to be accommodated in a primate sanctuary. It sounds fair to me.

  91. Fran Barlow
    December 4th, 2013 at 10:40 | #91

    Over at LP, the question has been posed about whether the pope is a communist. It’s laughable of course and it was pure clickbait, but there are some christianised social democratic claims in Evangelli Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel).

    Pope Francis said this political and economic system was inherently sinful because it violated the biblical prohibition against killing.

    “Such an economy kills,” he wrote. “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

    So if I read this correctly, then it follows that those who defend “this political and economic system” are supporters of sin and ought, in practice, to repent of their sin and do penance and seek absolution.

    This remark could have been directed at Abbott:

    “The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits,” Pope Francis wrote. “In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenceless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.”

    I recall Abbott asking the ALP to “repent” but perhaps Abbott ought to be repenting in relation to his thirst for power and willingness to sacrifice the environment in pursuit of profits and possessions, assuming his spiritual leader is to be believed.

    Someone needs to put this to him and invite him to declare where he stands on Pope Francis’s views.

  92. ZM
    December 5th, 2013 at 14:45 | #92

    I attended a forum on Australia at 4 degrees of global warming last night. Very sobering information, and some gallows humour. There’s a paper and an e-book available, published by Routledge I think.

    The forum was based on the concept that current discussions should be based on the best available science. If all current global policies were fully implemented the de facto warming target would be 4 degrees rather than the 2 degrees nominal target. The models suggest 4 degrees of warming would be reached between 60 and 70 years time from now unless following current policies.

    The multimillenial sea level rise associated with 4 degrees of warming would be 15m.

    An average of 4 degrees of warming for Australua would mean some areas inland would warm by up to 7 degrees. Analogues were given for the transformations, with an analogue for Northern Australia being impossible to find currently on the planet – meaning paleo climates would give the best examples.

    According to one of the speakers there has been little economic modelling undertaken for Australia at either 2 degrees or 4 degrees warmer, most being in the 2008 Garnaut report which has had some but not many updated modelling.

Comments are closed.