False Beliefs and Denial

Sams Gap at the Tennessee/North Carolina border

I have embarked on quite the journey over the past year. I stepped out of my comfort zone and decided to begin writing this blog. I do enjoy discussing energy and resource decline and climate change, because of the stark implications they present. I'm less comfortable talking about extinction due to the uncertainty of a timeline and the controversy surrounding it. Despite my knowledge in this field, I never feel like I know enough; so I'm always digging for more information. The studies, articles, videos, and other media I have discovered are sometimes difficult to digest. I often have to step back to think about what I am writing and how it will be received for those few who are reading it. I am ever mindful of how I felt upon first discovering where we are as a species and precisely how we continue chopping off the limb we are perched upon. It is quite difficult at times, understanding not only where we are but where we are headed; also comprehending the inertia behind us pushing us into new realms and sending us beyond tipping points. Today's article combines an eclectic mix of both recent events and stories with new material from Tom Murphy, William Rees, Jeff Masters, Alice Friedemann, and many others. Those of you familiar with my posts will be unfazed; new readers may be horrified.

The way some of my articles are received by a few point to anger and denial. I understand this because I was also there for a while, although I quickly progressed beyond those stages of grief. Despite my knowledge regarding human denial of reality and then the accompanying optimism bias which often typically lead to overshoot, I am still surprised by the sheer scale of this denial. My last two articles have created quite a stir in some circles. I've been cussed out a few times by those who obviously don't like or agree with the implications or even by those who think that the economic system of capitalism is what is driving ecological overshoot. Of course, without agriculture, capitalism would have never developed the way it did. Capitalism does contribute to the overall set of predicaments we find ourselves enmeshed in, but this doesn't change the fact that agriculture and civilization are unsustainable to begin with and came long before capitalism. 

Recently, I have had conversations where people have suggested that certain aboriginal civlizations were sustainable. Unfortunately, this is not true; it is a common myth based on a romantic idea of how humans lived thousands of years ago. It IS true that these humans lived far more sustainably than we do within modern civilization today, but civilization, by its very nature of requiring resources to be transported into a settlement and wastes transported out, means that civilizations are unsustainable no matter what time period they existed in. Once again, we must look at our biological and genetic roots at WHO and WHAT we are as a species to determine our fitness for labeling ourselves as being sustainable. How did our ancestors stack up? Neanderthals used technology (fire) to pursue land use changes 125,000 years ago, long before agriculture was developed. Another study shows how "humans are not cost economizers but are instead creatures that operate in high throughput ways that lead to large payoffs." A particular book points out our evolutionary roots leading to human male violence and many other studies point to this same issue as demonstrated in this article, quote: 

"Based on the idea of human nature, scientists do agree violence is inherent in humans. Among prehistoric humans, there is archaeological evidence for both contentions of violence and peacefulness as primary characteristics."

The extinction of herbivorous megafauna and other species (caused by both climate change and anthropogenic pressures as seen here and here) which fed ancient peoples along with countless evidence of violence against outside tribes and/or groups, the existence of "warriors" within the cultures, and that these systems of power have risen in most cultures, both Indigenous and European, point to the beginnings of unsustainability. Those systems of power and struggle are precisely what fueled the development of tools of warfare, and tools are technology. Technology use being unsustainable means that eventually, these cultures would have either developed technology on their own, borrowed technology from others through trade, or been wiped out by superior forces who utilized the power of technology against them. In other words, unsustainability would have prevailed sooner or later regardless of how sustainable a particular group was at a particular time period. This is the evolution of our species - cleverness is a feature, not a bug - and long-term wisdom is often exchanged for short-term gain as pointed out by human psychology and our addiction to dopamine hits (see Agency - Do We Have Free Will?).

Of course, I'm well aware that our capacity for denial in many ways exceeds our capacity for comprehension of the facts. There's even more denial I wrote about in this second part. Recently, in fact, it was pointed out to me that a new book by David Graeber and David Wengrow lays out the case for humans living in sustainable ways. I'm not certain that the book actually makes this claim and according to the reviews, I see no evidence of this claim. In fact, the reviews point to the duo turning the common myth of life in primitive cultures being "poor, nasty, brutish, and short" on its head but say absolutely nothing about whether civilization is or is not sustainable. Either way, I don't see how a civilization eliminates the need to transport resources into said civilization and transport wastes out or the need to defend such a settlement against outside tribes and/or groups, the very reasons civilizations become unsustainable. So, the two issues which appear to be at the heart of unsustainability are civilization and wetiko. I wrote two articles (here and here) regarding the mindsets we tend to get stuck in which lead us into traps, and it is these very issues of unsustainability and colonialism which are at the heart of our inability to solve (or in reality, reduce, since predicaments don't actually have solutions) the predicaments we face.

Graeber and Wengrow's book does appear to be a thought exercise for how society might envision an entirely new way to live in a more sustainable manner without the hierarchal bureaucrats and perhaps governmental overreach. I think this will happen naturally out of necessity as time moves forward and civilization collapses. However, I don't see this transformation as something that lasts. Humans have a tendency for certain psychological issues such as anthropocentrism, which lead me to think that collectively, we will use our cleverness more than our wisdom. This has so far led to us being so successful that it has actually been to our detriment over the long haul. Species which are so successful in this manner often end up being self-terminating or causing mass extinctions. This happened to the reindeer on St. Matthew Island in the Bering Sea in the 20th century. This is a fascinating but depressing story of reality, but points to the truth in the cycle of life.

Now obviously, after pointing out the facts of civilization, one would think that most scientists would comprehend these same facts, right? Apparently these facts haven't registered with many climate scientists who continue attempting to sell society a bill of goods or at least a nice fairy tale bedtime story. I see the same story over and over where the underlying assumption is that civilization is going to continue, only we're going to be using EVs instead of cars and wind turbines and solar panels instead of coal-generated electricity. This is a glaring mistake and one which amounts to lying by omission, provided the scientists are aware of Limits to Growth and comprehend that civilization is unsustainable. One wonders if these scientists do know these facts and are omitting them in order to keep their funding flowing. Things that make you go, "Hmmm..." To be fair, funding pays for research and the funds do not go directly to scientists who are usually paid a salary through the institution they are working for as pointed out below in the article from Tom Murphy (last article at the bottom).

I've recently come upon several more different sources of interesting information demonstrating that time is increasingly running shorter and shorter and complexity and chaos are bringing resiliency increasingly down. This visualization, in the style of a switchboard, depicts global warming by country and region from 1850 to 2020. The blue circles show varying degrees of cooling anomalies of up to -3.0 C while the warm-colored circles show the warming spikes of up to +3.0 C.

This article by Jeff Masters points out just how disastrous extreme weather events are becoming, quote:

"Earth had two billion-dollar weather disasters in November 2021, according to Aon: flooding in British Columbia, Canada, that cost $2 billion and killed four people, and flooding in India and Sri Lanka from late October through November that killed 217 people and did $2.5 billion in damage. Earth has now had 41 billion-dollar weather disasters so far in 2021; the most in an entire year is 50 billion-dollar weather disasters, set in 2020."

Another article written by a survivor of the Dixie Wildfire in California, journalist Jane Braxton Little, describes what things are like after the wildfire, quote: 

"Dixie did far more than take out entire forests. It razed Greenville, my hometown since 1975. It reduced house after house to rubble, leaving only chimneys where children once had hung Christmas stockings, and dead century-old oaks where families, spanning four generations, had not so long ago built tree forts. The fire left our downtown with scorched, bent-over lampposts touching debris-strewn sidewalks. The historic sheriff’s office is just a series of naked half-round windows eerily showcasing devastation. Like natural disasters everywhere, this fire has upended entire communities.

Sadly, I have plenty of time to contemplate these devastating changes. I’m the first in a long line of vehicles halted by a burly man clad in neon yellow and wielding a stop sign on a six-foot pole. We motorists are all headed toward Quincy, the seat of Plumas County and its largest town. My mission is to retrieve the household mail, a task that would ordinarily have required a five-minute walk from my second-floor office to the Greenville Post Office. Now, it’s a 50-mile round trip drive that sometimes takes four hours due to the constant removal of hazardous trees. I’m idling here impatiently.

How much of society goes on about their daily chores either completely unaware of these scenarios or in denial of the collapse unfolding as a result?

One of the latest narratives I see making the rounds is the nonsense about AI (Artificial Intelligence) and self-replicating robots. First of all, these robots are not self-replicating. Without industrial civilization and the fossil hydrocarbon platform, their existence wouldn't be possible to begin with, let alone any fantasies about them being about to reproduce themselves, quote:

"...robots and AI cannot make themselves or repair themselves. They cannot reproduce. They require fossil fuels for every single step of their life cycle, from mining to manufacturing to transportation of their parts to an assembly factory from all over the globe and to their final destination. Their components require 100 different elements, many of them in short supply or available only from China or other nations. They run on electricity, and the grid will fail eventually."

Ultimately, all these silly narratives which I point out as myths have evolved from a set of false beliefs which results in all the denial of reality that humans generate, quote:

"People have little control over their mental states until they begin challenging and questioning their beliefs, thoughts, perceptions, actions, and emotions.

False and limiting beliefs are like parasites: they stay inactive in the mind until some thought or event triggers their response. Then they impede people’s ability to think sensibly and rationally, and they affect perceptions and perspectives in a pernicious manner (Sisgold, 2013).

False beliefs cause many problems, because human behavior is based upon choices and decisions often based upon the belief system each of us has. When we have a false belief, decisions made according to said belief often are poor choices and generally result in less desirable outcomes as a result. This study provides some interesting insights, quote: 

"Virtually every social interaction involves reasoning about the perspectives of others, or ‘theory of mind (ToM).’ Previous research suggests that it is difficult to ignore our current knowledge when reasoning about a more naïve perspective (i.e., the curse of knowledge). In this Mini Review, we discuss the implications of the curse of knowledge for certain aspects of ToM. Particularly, we examine how the curse of knowledge influences key measurements of false belief reasoning. In closing, we touch on the need to develop new measurement tools to discern the mechanisms involved in the curse of knowledge and false belief reasoning, and how they develop across the lifespan.

This demonstrates how people often make choices and decisions commonly without actually consciously thinking about them because they are based upon prior knowledge and experiences. As a result, many false beliefs create havoc for those who suffer from them by producing undesirable results which are generally accomplished subconsciously. Combined with knowledge of human psychology, one can clearly see how obtaining broad compliance with major behavioral change throughout society is often only achieved after long periods of time, usually at least a generation or two. 

Tom Murphy has a new paper I came across the other day which FINALLY mentions the difference between problems and predicaments! The paper is titled, "Modernity is incompatible with planetary limits: Developing a PLAN for the future," and goes into many different issues and then explains what they REALLY are (in red), quote: 

"While energy is fundamental to the human story, it is not the only facet of concern. Others include: global food supply dependent on fertilizer from a finite supply of natural gas; escalating biodiversity loss, due largely to habitat losses [16]; domino collapse of one fishery after another [17]; aquifer depletion [18], [19], [20]; global warming’s ills (fires, floods, storms, desertification, sea level rise, etc.) [21]; and global pandemics—to name just a few.

Yet, again, this list is less a set of problems to be solved, than an unprecedented predicament to be understood and mitigated [6]. This is not a normal time. Faith in humanity’s future overlooks the lack of any historical evidence that human societies are capable of addressing such a litany of unfamiliar global-scale interconnected foundational problems. Notwithstanding various pre-fossil fuel age traditions that privilege longer term thinking (e.g., to the seventh generation), evolution and modern economics have acted on the human species to steeply discount the future in favor of the present [22]. The existential threats to Earth’s ecosystem posed by modern lifestyles require a response for which evolution has not prepared the human species: to think more than one generation ahead."

In other words, mitigation is possible; solutions aren't. Notice that he mentions traditional Indigenous culture of thinking seven generations into the future. I'm not sure we'll have too many more generations to be concerned about. I don't like to speculate too much, so I think I'll leave it at that. 

Meanwhile, William Rees has another presentation out which is even better than other recent videos he has done. Just like Murphy, he explains how we suffer from predicaments and not necessarily just problems. Also mentioned in the video is the possibility of extinction of the human species, something that rarely (if ever) is discussed, and he brings this article into the light. Just a few years ago, human extinction was unheard of in the mainstream. His description of the video is descriptive and accurate, quote:

"Climate change and other environmental organizations urge governments to act decisively/rapidly to decarbonize the economy and halt further development of fossil fuel reserves. These demands arguably betray: ignorance of the role of energy in the modern economy; ill-justified confidence in society’s ability to transition to 100% "green renewable" energy; no appreciation of the ecological consequences of attempting to do so; and little understanding of the social implications. Without questioning the need to abandon fossil fuels, I will argue that the dream of a smooth energy transition is little more than a comforting shared illusion. Moreover, even if it were possible, it would not solve climate change and would exacerbate the real existential threat facing society, namely, overshoot. I then explore some of the consequences and implications of (the necessary) abandonment of fossil fuels in the absence of adequate substitutes, and how governments and MTI (Modern Techno-Industrial) society should be responding to these unspoken biophysical realities."

Rees attacks denial and false beliefs and points to these as issues that have so far kept mainstream society from making any serious efforts at transformative change. The slides are excellent as usual and he has added a couple of new ones to explain in more detail the material he goes over in the presentation.

As time moves forward, the reality is beginning to set in (at least for those of us willing to look at the evidence without denying its validity). We can see supply chain woes and realize that the excuses given for said woes never admit that energy decline is the root cause. Blame is cast upon lack of employees, truck drivers, and shipping containers along with raw materials, but nobody says that a lack of surplus energy is what lay at the foundation of these issues. An excellent article explaining the scenario by François-Xavier Chevallerau provides a clear-cut view of precisely how this energy crisis is completely different from earlier energy issues and explains why technological devices such as solar panels and wind turbines can never replace fossil hydrocarbons along with the common myth of human agency, quote:

"In Western societies we have reached a point where we want to believe in the unbridled power of human agency, at individual level (“I can be whatever I want to be”) as well as at collective level (“we can do whatever we want to do”). Self-actualization and “political will” have become the modern myths of the Western psyche… Yet even with a lot of faith in the power of political will it would be quite extraordinary if we could in fact decide, collectively and at global level, to enact in just a few decades a systemic change without precedent in humanity’s history and that would fundamentally reverse our species’ energetic and economic course. If we would in fact make that choice, we would quickly find out that we would not just be letting go of the downsides of fossil energy, but of most of its upsides as well – which would probably make it extremely challenging to sustain our choice over time."

These common narratives are built upon energetical and ecological ignorance, not much differently than the scenario above where the climate scientist clearly does not appear to comprehend that civilization is unsustainable. In a nutshell, this article explains why society is running full speed ahead into a brick wall of depletion and accurately points out that this is reality blind.

For more proof of where this is going, this article makes it quite clear that energy decline is real and going to affect us, quote: 

"The founder and director of Foxconn, the world’s largest contract manufacturer of electronics, Terry Gou, has said that “there will be a shortage of electricity in the next year.”

Gou added that “people should not complain about the future lack of electricity.” Instead, they should “prepare”.

Another article points to how energy costs are causing industries to simply shut down because the costs of production cannot be covered by current pricing of products. Edgar Ocampo Téllez writes quote: 

"At current prices in France, producing one tonne of aluminum, which sells for $2,800, requires $11,000 in energy consumption." (Source)

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see where all this is heading. Either products are set to skyrocket in price or they simply will disappear from the market. A temporary shortage is a third option provided energy costs return to levels they were previously at before, although this possibility is highly unlikely given there is no basis for sudden energy surpluses unless demand drops off. Factory shutdowns might provide temporary relief with regard to energy costs, but with the caveat that supply chain shortages will persist as a result. Once the economy falls into recession or depression, only then will this scenario improve and by that time the so-called "improvement" won't be seen as an improvement because people won't have the money to buy these products anyway.

Now for something slightly less connected to all of this - and yet intrinsically connected all the same - and insidiously about to bring about untold disaster. Permafrost thaw is known to be causing a slow motion emissions fiasco, but as I mentioned in my article about infrastructure, permafrost thaw is changing almost everything about how we deal with infrastructure in the parts of the world dealing with this issue. What is known as debris lobes are beginning to have an effect upon roads and other infrastructure as highlighted in this article about the Dalton Highway and the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline. This short time-lapse video shows precisely the threat. A similar situation is playing out in Denali National Park, where a landslide scenario threatens the road into Denali NP and caused the shutdown of the road earlier this year. Two time-lapse videos show what the landslide looks like there as well, along with a geologic analysis of the situation. Warming caused by climate change is the culprit for both of these.

As can be seen throughout this article, plenty of examples of false beliefs have caused specific behavioral decisions or choices which are now being shown to be disastrous in the outcomes as consequences. 

One last article from Tom Murphy regarding the topic of false beliefs and denial points out specifically how these have affected the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, two symptom predicaments of ecological overshoot. His explanations go into precise detail, and he closes with this, quote:

"I must say that part of me admires the clever and effective manipulation that right-wing media outlets have perfected. Rather than studying political science, international relations, and history, politicos on the right often study marketing, psychology, and communications. The recipe that hooks the audience is to hammer the messages:

1. The condescending elitists on the other side think you’re dumb.
2. We know that you’re smart (wink; we’re experts at lying).
3. In fact, we can trust you to understand the following insight that the elitists will label as conspiratorial: you will know it (in your bones) to be true, being as smart as you are.
4. Only
WE can be trusted to tell the truth: don’t bother even LOOKING at the pack of lies in all the “lamestream” media outlets, even if they are all oddly and independently consistent with each other (see: conspiracy!).

How brilliant is that? The Soviet propagandists would be proud. The targeted victims/viewers don’t stand a chance against this psychological Jiu Jitsu. They feel belonging, validation, purpose, and—well—smart. Who doesn’t like feeling smart? Having established this bad-faith trust, the outlets can peddle any narrative they want. As long as it has some “truthy” hooks, it will not be questioned. Now, what will they do with this power? Good things, surely.

Uh huh, yeah, right! I couldn't have said it better myself.

The sad conclusion about these false beliefs and denial that society is promulgating is this: once one understands precisely the damage that is being done, who is doing this damage, and how this damage is being accomplished, the only question that remains unanswered is when do we want to stop causing the damage? When do we want to reduce technology use and thereby reduce ecological overshoot which will then reduce the symptom predicaments such as climate change and pollution loading? As long as we don't commit to reducing technology use and ecological overshoot, the damage will continue to worsen.


  1. Erik,
    A fine compilation of all of the problems leading to the predicament of our civilizational overshoot. I do think that a significant percentage of our problems could be ameliorated by population collapse. The question would then be can the species continue considering the changes to the biosphere we have put in place, i.e. have we already "burned the house down"?
    Keep up the good work and ignore the ignorant naysayers.

  2. Thank you for sharing your experiences and insights and the links to so much information!
    At this moment, I have enough, and that is enough. Someday I will not have enough and life will be different.
    All the best to you at the beginning of this new winter!


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