Spot The Illusions We Tell Ourselves

Whitewater Falls, North Carolina

Recently there have been a rather large number of occurrences which shine a light on some positive progress being made on ecological overshoot. Unfortunately, many outlets and even scientists have made claims about so-called "solutions" which are anything but, and generally they're simply not true.  

One of the loudest occurences has been the release of Don't Look Up on Netflix, which has elicited lots of reviews and is reverberating far and wide within the climate change community. I say "climate change" community because even many longtime climate followers are still in the dark about ecological overshoot, the predicament CAUSING climate change. One review in particular is extremely accurate, this one from Tom Murphy. On most articles, I usually try to avoid reading the comments following said articles. However, Tom's site generally has comments which actually elevate each article because they are often thoughtful rather than the depressing comments after most "regular" articles. This particular snippet of one caught my eye because of the relevance it has with so many comments I see routinely, quote:

"When will "we" unite to solve "our" global problems? As much as each of us may wish otherwise, humanity is not a giant family. It is a large mass of clever primates who have evolved to cope with temporary resource surpluses followed inevitably by scarcity. After the feast always comes the killing famine, and we are built to compete in just such a world.

This does not foreclose united action against common threats, but when the chips are down and *
somebody* must have less of a limiting resource, we will do everything in our earthly power to ensure that it's not us.

The philosopher says, "Why are we busy scoring points off each other when we could unite to solve the problem?" The animal instinct replies, "The famine always comes; all individuals must die. What matters is the percentage of me and my clan's shared genetic material as a fraction of the surviving population's overall gene pool."

I have read these (other) reviews with amusement, as most of us familiar with these types of movies and the details that said movies attempt to reveal can testify. The movie's critique of society and leaders in general couldn't be more true when it comes down to the reality of actually accomplishing anything that might be considered real transformation in a way that would begin reducing ecological overshoot on a scale which would translate into at least some positive territory. I constantly see all kinds of memes claiming all sorts of great things happening, but practically every single one of them are making claims that are outright false, claims that are dubious at best and obfuscate the reality that they either accomplish nothing to reduce ecological overshoot or exaggerate their claims into outrageous territory, or make claims which are completely irrelevant and even though true, actually INCREASE ecological overshoot, thereby making their impact NEGATIVE rather than positive.

Five recent articles bring this phenomenon front and center, where many people have claimed that success is being made on these various fronts (we've all seen the various memes hyping success in these areas):

Sadly, while success can be claimed in one manner of looking at each scenario, overall success in each is absent, as these articles point out. Conservation ideas are often very (strikingly) similar to Bright Green Lies in the sense that they frequently don't solve anything long term and simply kick the can down the road, allowing for civilization to continue unabated by giving the illusion that the predicaments we face are under control. Once one actually looks underneath the hype, one realizes that things are not what they may seem. If society was actually serious about conservation, serious efforts to reduce ecological overshoot would be underway, since superficial and topical efforts cannot do much to ameliorate the systemic predicament underneath.

There are far more of these types of articles in the files here; especially in the Species and Biodiversity Loss and Extinction files. Spoiler Alert: there is another file which also contains some articles which point to hypocrisy with regard to ecological overshoot and sustainability, and one doesn't even really have to click on the actual articles; one only needs to look at the titles and use critical thinking to arrive at a conclusion.

Before I move on, one article in particular caught my eye as being the poster child for hypocrisy. This quote is pretty hilarious: 

"The UN Convention on Biological Diversity contains five goals and 20 targets for preventing species loss, known as Aichi Biodiversity Targets. The Conference of the Parties, which is the governing body of the convention, should now review the progress of these targets, determine the causes for failures in implementation and suggest how to address continued biodiversity loss with technology.

We need new governance structures and consensus on action and accountability. Countries need to be able to share information and verifiable data metrics to track progress on preserving ocean biodiversity.

When all these activities and actions are in place, it will be nothing less than a revolution for the ocean."

The lack of critical thinking combined with false beliefs, denial, and optimism bias is actually part of the driving force CAUSING mass extinction through the increased use of technology which in turn drives ecological overshoot which in turn drives climate change and all of these predicaments together are causing mass extinction everywhere (not just in the ocean).

Unless and until humans realize that we cannot save species from extinction in the first place (due to the fact that we do not control nature; nature controls us as well as any species we might believe we are "saving") AND (unless and until we) also realize that technology use only INCREASES ecological overshoot will we begin making the correct moves to reduce ecological overshoot and begin therefore reducing the risk of extinction.

Needless to say, this article (how to stop ocean extinction) is a sad excuse for anyone who has actually thought forward to what conditions will be like more than a generation or two down the road. Energy and resources for AI, robots, and 3D printers will not be available and the necessary components will not be able to be manufactured and habitat by then will likely be wiped out for many species.

Ultimately, this article from Michael Nabert points out the fly in the ointment. It is society's constant bargaining with the predicament of ecological overshoot rather than accepting it - where people refuse to give up their conveniences. Nabert points out how well this works, quote:

"Imagine the climate catastrophe we’re creating for ourselves is a ticking time bomb, and the increasingly urgent calls for action from climate scientists are an attempt to defuse it. When you try to defuse a bomb, getting it 99% right gives you the same result as getting it zero percent right. Get through all the steps but one before the clock runs out, and it’s still kaboom. Close simply isn’t good enough. There is no consolation prize for getting close.

You cannot cross a chasm with a succession of small hops. You get all the way to the other side, or you drop. You can’t half-ass it. Jumping 90% of the way to the other side means a sickening plunge the same way that just stepping over the edge does.

This is truly where the false beliefs and denial kick in - actually getting people to realize what reducing ecological overshoot requires and that only going part of the way just won't cut the mustard. Buying more stuff won't do it. Building more stuff won't do it. Driving a different car or using differently-produced electricity won't do it. In fact, most of the reductionistic ideas thought up to attempt "solutions" or "fixes" at all levels fail because they don't look at the overall system on all levels and they fail to take civilizational inertia, Jevons Paradox, and Liebig's Law of the Minimum into consideration, to name just a few deficiencies. Some plans actually do take into consideration ecological overshoot rather than just climate change or just energy and resource decline or just pollution loading, and these plans are usually far better. Still, even those plans are optimistic at best for what society, the governments of today, and the corporate world would actually support and/or allow. I have yet to see a plan that would attempt to do away with civilization as we know it, and considering the fact that it is unsustainable means that by definition, ecological overshoot will be allowed to continue until it cannot (Limits to Growth [energy and resource decline] means that the train we are on is currently running into a brick wall and the Seneca Cliff is just beyond).

For evidence of this, we can see that this article about Mexico stopping the exporting of oil in 2023 may not necessarily cause any discomfort until one looks at the Export Land Model, work done by Dallas geologist Jeffrey Brown that some may remember from The Oil Drum. 

Basically, this is the explanation, quote: 

"It starts with the observation that most oil exporting nations (Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Russia, etc.) have citizens who currently use less oil and oil derivatives per head than northern European nations, but that their oil use per head is steadily increasing. In the scenario that an oil producing nation starts to experience a decline in their oil production (due to oil-field depletion and only an ever decreasing number of more difficult-to-access fields being discovered), the hypothesis is that its government will experience ineluctable pressure to ensure enough oil is available for constantly increasing domestic consumption, even if this requires reducing oil exports. (Implicit in this is an assumption that the citzens will prefer the actual oil products to the second-order advantages they would get from continuing to export the same oil volume at presumably rising oil prices.) For such a country, its oil export volume will decline faster than its oil production declines."

For a more thorough explanation of this graph, see this article where I saw it orginally. This article is also available, as well as a newer entry here. Now, it isn't just Mexico stopping exporting. Here we see that Indonesia is cutting exports as well; this time with coal. Uzbekistan is cutting gas exports as well. Speaking of gas flows being cut, Turkey is experiencing power outages caused by Iran cutting gas flows. Bitcoin mining where the energy situation is worsening is being shut down and/or prohibited. Extreme weather events are also taking their toll as is highlighted here and I also pointed out the risk to not only the fossil hydrocarbon platform but ALL infrastructure in my article here. Once one understands all of this, he or she can easily comprehend that where we will be in less than a decade is pretty scary. Many different things we take for granted today will be gone by then according to that ELM graph. Think of all the different jobs today which are non-essential in terms of products or services they are responsible for selling, manufacturing, handling, maintaining, and/or providing. Of course, many different things can happen between now and then, so I shouldn't speculate too much. 

I am happy to see so much discussion occurring as a result of the movie Don't Look Up among other recent occurrences. I don't yet see real, transformative changes happening which would lead me to believe that most of society is working towards reducing ecological overshoot anytime soon; especially not as a result of voluntary changes being made. However, I do see more social acceptance that collapse is happening, that conditions are not going to improve, and that we are in for some crazy times. 


  1. Brilliant piece, as usual Erik. I've read Kunstler, Heinberg, Greer and others. There is little evidence, really, that oil scarcity is upon us. The 'peaksters' have faded to background noise. For example, how do you explain the huge muscle car renaissance? SUVs are still the best selling vehicles. Other modes, e.g. walking, cycling, transit etc barely register. Factoring inflation, gas prices have never been lower ($3/gal here in Delaware). What are your thoughts on Abiotic oil? The idea that decayed plant and animal matter created trillions of barrels of oil with no end in sight is more hard to believe, IMO, than it generating in an abiogenic manner. It's becoming more plausible, IMO, that something continues to replenish this literal ocean of oil from deep within the earth. Maybe you can write an opinion piece on this. Cheers.

  2. Denver NC

    Denver NC Duke Energy Methane power plant under construction (grading) countryside on Lake Norman. $1million homes will decline.

    1. I don't see a connection between the cancellation of a natural gas power plant in Israel and one in North Carolina.

    2. 59 new power plants each @ $700 million. Increased utility cost. Fracking NC.


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