Saturday, January 12, 2019

And That's Why We Can't Have Nice Things

Imagine you have one of those "people movers," a three-row seat mini-van that's advertised to fit seven comfortably. So you put a bum in every one of those seats and then you load another ten people into the van. Then you set out to drive across country, all 17 of you.

Now, substitute humanity for the passengers and Earth for that van. You wind up with close to eight billion people on a planet that has room for about three billion. That's what accounts for most of the predicament we humans and most other lifeforms on this planet are now in.

There are loads of stories coming out exhorting us to change our diet. Meat is out, veggies are in. If you must have creature protein, go for the insect options. Put a little salt on them, a touch of cayenne, lightly fry them up and, voila, dinner.

With everything in short supply, the meat diet has to go. The livestock industry requires too much energy, uses increasingly scarce resources and those farts, don't get me started. That end product, if you get my drift, pure methane.

Why insects? Why not switch to fish?  Same story. Too many mouths, not enough fish to fill them. This leads the industry to "fish down the food chain." We're collapsing fisheries, species by species.  That can't end well.

Even our farmland isn't up to the population challenge. We have tried. We figured that with enough agricultural chemicals (fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides) and enough ground water for irrigation and plenty of energy for mechanization, we could produce bumper crops that would allow our numbers to increase threefold in just a single lifetime.  It was good while it lasted but now much of the world's farmland is seriously degraded, intensively farmed to the point of exhaustion. This brings on a double whammy - desertification and the loss of aquifers drained for irrigation. Think that's a Third World problem? Check out America's Ogallala aquifer.

Energy, you can't do much without it. Over at, you'll find a chart that shows how our appetite for energy has grown since 1800 and, especially, since 1950.  In the post-war era, global energy consumption has soared seven fold, about 700 per cent, and the International Energy Agency expects demand will grow another 30 per cent by 2050.  Most of that is fossil fuels, the energy that produces all those awful greenhouse gases. Crazy, man.

The weird part and, I promise, this is really weird, is that we're still all about growth. The planet can't support us. It's tapped out. We don't care.  Just like a malignancy, we cannot stop growing. We may understand the limits but we will not, repeat not, let them get in the way of our pursuit of growth.  We're not going to stop this train until we come to the collapsed bridge over that deep gorge.

And that, kids, is why we can't have nice things any more. There's just not enough to go around. It's becoming a net sum game. Some, a few, will get plenty. Some, a whole lot more, will get just enough or near to it. Some will be left out, left to fend for themselves.  The more we grow the uglier this is going to get but that's a decade or two off, maybe, and, for now, we really don't care.


J MacDuff (Weatherguy) said...

We have become vermin. Look up the definition.

The Mound of Sound said...

Yep. Part of James Lovelock's original Gaia Theory provides that inanimate Earth operates in ways that mimic living organisms. Mankind is a parasite, a bacteria. As long as our numbers are not excessive everything ticks over. When our numbers and our appetites grow too large, the Earth develops a high fever and essentially rids itself of us.

Jay Farquharson said...

Pulled some Kennebecks, Yukon Golds and some Pontiac Reds out of the root cellar to move to the fridge today. Using organic, raised bed, trickle irrigation techniques, 3, 3’ x 8’ raised beds grows enough potatoes for two, for a year.

72 square feet, smaller than a Vancouver condo patio.

The carrying capacity of the earth is a lot larger than reported.

It’s just not “friendly” to Corporate Profit.

Amazon’s profits in 2017, for example, would feed the entire population of earth, for a decade.

Karl Kolchak said...

This is also why all the great "isms" of 20th century politics (capitalism, communism, socialism, libertarianism, liberalism, conservatism) no longer have any real relevance. They were an intellectual luxury, bandied about before the limits of growth and the degradation of the planet really started to bite.

Anonymous said...

Neoliberals and neoprogressives are like Christian fundamentalists: all waiting for the world to end, instead of doing anything about it. Just different rituals and different gods.

Neoliberals are like neocons: they blame the gods of supply and demand for all the world's problems – while simultaneously touting them as our saviors. (Crazy like a wolf.)

Neoprog hippies are baby neoliberals: some, like Bernie Sanders, never grow up. (The void conquers all.)

All go gently into that good night. Confident they are right on a big fat nothing! (The gate to hell is wide and the road that leads to it is easy, and there are many who travel it.)

Oh how our frail deeds might have danced on a green bay! Whine, cry against the dying of the light – while doing everything to kill it off.

It's hard to imagine that men and women accomplished two progressive eras in between three gilded ages. (Square Deal era: 1890-1920; New Deal era: 1932-1962.) Where did they all go? Might as well be a work of fiction!

All the world's a stage. All the world's a fiction. All the world's a lie. All bad things must come to an end – one way or the other.

God gave us brains, the capacity to use them and all the resources, knowledge and power to make a civilization. She offers us a choice: her Wisdom or her Wrath. (If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.)

thwap said...


The comment above mine: "It's hard to imagine that men and women accomplished two progressive eras in between three gilded ages. (Square Deal era: 1890-1920; New Deal era: 1932-1962.) Where did they all go? Might as well be a work of fiction!"

Seems to be huffing paint-thinner. Those past generations were no more capable and no less stupid than this present generation. The fact of the matter is that, collectively, they all helped us get to our present predicament.

And you can take your imaginary god and shover her up your whazoo.

MOS - What I came here to say was that humanity seems to be addicted to easy answers. I never expected much out of the Liberals, but the fact that they've done little more than pay lip service to global warming/climate change, is appalling.

I dare say that Trudeau and his gang KNOW that there will be little political capital to be gained from pulling $4 billion out of thin air to keep a doomed pipeline project afloat. Pandering to the oil industry's paid goons is not going to win Liberal seats in Alberta.

It does serve as good political cover for business as usual. (Which is to service Bay Street and the Calgary oil executives slavishly.)

"Look at all the push-back against our carbon tax! There isn't anything else we can possibly do!"

I don't even know what the NDP is up to. (Aside from the betrayals from the new government in BC.)

I had more to say but that pompous ass above distracted me.

Anonymous said...

"Seems to be huffing paint-thinner. Those past generations were no more capable and no less stupid than this present generation. The fact of the matter is that, collectively, they all helped us get to our present predicament."

Actually both Grand Generations stood up to looting Robber Barons who were brutalizing the people and trashing the global economy – and achieved incredible leaps in human development.

We're in our present predicament because we put the wolves back in charge of the hen house via free-market globalization.

People today are hysterical like Medieval Christians. They were not stupid people. They were senseless because they were gaslit with Orwellian culture.

The Grand Generations didn't have the luxury to be senseless. They were born into a storm. Do or die. The world was FUBAR but they kept going in any case – and achieved incredible progress in the process.

If you're not a progressive, are you a socialist? Maybe you should do a little more research into the histories of both. There are a number of good documentaries on Curiosity Stream and Netflix.

BTW, God has been around a lot longer than us silly humans of our own making. (We were created in the image of God: as peaceful African egalitarians 200 kYA. We turned ourselves into savages about 60 kYA.)

If there's anything in the universe not worth believing in, it's us silly human savages dressed in fine rainments of nothing. But however much the world of our own making is SNAFU, the universe demands that we keep going, in any case.

(We can fool ourselves. But we can't fool Nature; we can't fool reality; and we can't fool the infinite eternal.)

Hugh said...

Growing debt creates an imperative for a growing GDP. Growing GDP requires growing supplies of water, soil, air, food, energy etc.

The Mound of Sound said...

That was certainly an eye-opening discussion as a person of faith and an avowed atheist dragged progressivism into their theocratic jousting.

I've always thought it lamentable how progressivism, like environmentalism, was transformed into a battle of left versus right, secular versus those of faith. Environmentalism is founded on science. Science is science regardless of political ideology or religious outlook. Progressivism ought not to be confined by those boundaries either.

Anonymous said...

The only science we don't have is the most important of all: economic science.

Instead we get High Born priests dictating the gospel of social Darwinism.

Experts tell us we live in a hostile universe where everything isn't meant to be okay. Where the next generation has to have it worse off than the one before. "The cupboards are bare. We have to live within our means."

It's the Orwellian version of progress.

Anonymous said...

Hugh's got it wrong. The relationship is: debt burden = debt / GDP. The faster the economy grows, the quicker you get out of debt. (When the bottom number gets bigger, the entire number gets smaller: 1/2 -> 1/3 -> 1/4…)

GDP is a nation's income. People like to get pay raises. More is better, unless the income is based on corruption.

We got out of hawk in the post-war era with pro-growth measures: investing big in infrastructure and public benefits. At the time the debt burden reached 150% debt/GDP funding the war. After some post-war debt-hair-cutting, developed countries brought their debts down to around 30% by the mid-1970s. With medium government spending, not cut-backs.

Today we have around 100% debt after copious amounts of borrowing to fund High Born tax cuts. Funny how the US borrowed $19T since Reagan when debt was $1T. They borrowed the money to give to the rich. Now they owe the rich $19T on top!

If they didn't indulge in this masochistic meathead ideology, debt would be 10%. Perhaps less. If post-war GDP (1950 - 1973) had continued at a steady rate, their GDP would actually be double what it is today. (Of course, government debt – like corporate debt – is a resource to use to invest in infrastructure. Investing in rich people's mountains of money is not the smartest idea.)

The real problem with exponential growth is not GDP, it's debt itself.

First, GDP. We are entering the information-age economy. This means more and more services will be virtual (goods can be considered services.) That means wasting less and less physical resources and energy while spending more and more time in the virtual realm of cyberspace. Information consumption is as green as it gets.

The problem with debt is rising inequality.

Most people are not net savers. At best, they have enough to maintain their lifestyle into retirement. With the rich, on the other hand, a lot of their riches don't go into consumption. They go into savings.

One person's savings is another person's debt.

So the wealth of the rich grows exponentially, as inequality rises, while the debt of the people grows exponentially too. This eventually culminates in "gilded age" economic collapse.

We can see this happening today. Debt, debt everywhere, but not a drop to drink. Meaning the purpose of borrowing is to have things in the real world for a service fee.

Debt is capital. Capital is like water. Civilization was founded on irrigation systems. If all the capital flows to the 0.01%, most of the crops experience drought, while the top-tier crop become a swamp.

In any case, there is no debt crisis. Government debt is like corporate debt: it's negotiable. So is consumer, mortgage and student-loan debt in a democracy.

There are many ways to solve the problem: from debt hair cuts to raising the inflation target to bringing back post-war levels of GDP growth by investing a bit in people and providing equality of opportunity.

In today's globalized economy, this process only works if living standards are on the rise across the globe. That's the way free-trade globalization was supposed to work. But just add social and green tariffs to the mix, and the system goes from anemic and bleeding out to perking right up and transforming the entire world the way the First World nations were transformed, post-war.

"If you owe your bank a hundred pounds, you have a problem. But if you owe a million, it has." — John Maynard Keynes