Bargaining and Degrowth


Gazebo at Fort Macon, North Carolina

Once again, new material forces me to write a new article to disclose the new information (OK, honestly, I chose to write this article, but you already knew that). I often simply add updates (both marked and unmarked) to previous articles, but this particular scenario needed its own post as it combines more than just one topic. As is typical with the energy sector, denial of reality and optimism bias is often key as to why people can't seem to see the writing on the wall that the idea of fossil fuel-derived devices that require the fossil fuel platform in order to continue to be maintained are not items that can exist without the fossil fuel platform; so they do not and can not replace fossil fuels; nor do they accomplish anything to reduce ecological overshoot as Steve Bull points out.

While the typical discussion regarding non-renewable "renewables" continues amassing more evidence that the entire scheme has been nothing more than about money, new material about other angles of the so-called "solutions" typically brought forth are also getting a more critical look from scholars. This is now making it clear that the ideas being marketed to the general public don't actually solve anything but provide more money to those who will benefit from such ideas in the first place. Chris Hedges discusses some of this with Derrick Jensen and Lierre Keith in this video.

I have covered some of the papers and provided videos from Simon Michaux in the past, and many of these same papers have been criticized, promulgating Michaux to provide a new paper going over these criticisms and his response to those claims (spoiler alert: those claims against his papers are proven to be without merit). Once again, Michaux points to energy and mineral blindness and shows how this will prevent alternative energies from gaining much of a foothold in replacing fossil fuels.

On the same front, Gail Tverberg also points out how those devices along with EVs will not solve our energy predicament. Interestingly, she also points to the Maximum Power Principle as one quality that stymies attempts to reel in energy use. 

Paul Mobbs brings reality to the forefront of the situation regarding non-renewable "renewables" along with many other parts of the continuing schemes and narratives we are often presented with regarding ecological overshoot and the symptom predicaments it causes. While there is a link on the video to this written version of the text along with links to the material, I provide it here for ease of access. He points out precisely what this whole blog attempts to disclose, quote:

"We are not in a situation of having 'problems' with 'possible solutions'; we are in a 'predicament' with only a few, mostly unwelcome 'outcomes' to choose from."

This is what so many people simply cannot "see" - or perhaps they just don't understand the meaning behind it. Recently, partially because I support the degrowth movement, and partially because I wanted to see how society is accepting or rejecting the movement, I joined several new groups to gather a foothold on these ideas. While I see lots of articles, videos, conferences, and other media about degrowth, I wanted to see what kinds of conversations are being held about it from the perspective of the average person. I have been both excited and depressed from what I've seen. There are many people who are inevitably supportive of this concept, but their visualizations of what it really means runs the gamut from buying EVs or e-bikes and solar systems to charge them to actually living without cars altogether and even some who promote living without electricity too (rare but at least those folks have a more realistic idea of what is actually involved). 

These groups do seem to be gathering steam, but I am concerned with some of the narratives being offered. Some groups want to begin raising funds to be able to get their message across through advertising and marketing, and while this might seem like a good idea at first, this is the exact same mechanism thousands of NGOs go through on their way to becoming a money-generating avenue that forgets what their original purpose was. Some organizations attempt to keep certain parts of their original goals in mind, but once fundraising begins, the grassroots feel of the group vanishes and attracts and foments the wrong elements into the group.

The ideas being featured are so hit-and-miss that most of these groups don't seem to have two or three central focuses of their goals. Many members pay little attention to the focus or the goals, developing their own narrative as to what the goals are. Lots of arguing and a considerable amount of ignorance are also featured. Some groups want to instill political influence, others attempt to steer clear of politics. Because politics often involves money and major corporations, one can easily see how the narratives will get shifted over to what the corporations' goals are and few if any groups will be able to overcome those narratives, which often focus on divide and conquer schemes. 

Many of these groups think that recycling and reuse schemes such as the circular economy are part of the answer. While there may be some positive ideas from within that part of the movement, this book demonstrates that there are many impossibilities that make these ideas problematic.

I often read a considerable number of articles and papers, and I often assume (sometimes incorrectly) that I am late to the game. So I am certain that my observation that despite all these degrowth movements and all the other movements involving attempting to reduce ecological overshoot or its symptom predicaments, that all signs are moving in the opposite direction (to what is desired) is not unique. I keep seeing lots of congratulatory articles and hoopla about conserving this and conserving that (which is all fine and dandy) but which remain nothing more than incremental changes, not enough to make a major difference at this point. A large part of these articles (as I have pointed out in the past) are nothing more than hype about new technology designed to distract the reader from the reality (collapse) that surrounds us today. 

An article that came out last summer from Ted Trainer pointed out the conundrum we find ourselves within the degrowth movement in. Too many people have gotten involved with the movement because they thought it would be easy or relatively simple to change their behaviors, not realizing that technology use goes against degrowth values. Technology use is what supports civilization, and for the most part (with the exception of small, human-powered technologies such as hand tools, language, human-made clothing and shelters, etc.), one cannot be simultaneously for degrowth and for technology use. All technology that is systemic such as large-scale agriculture, natural gas pipelines, the electrical grid, the transportation network, all radio and television broadcasting, the internet and the worldwide web, AI and robotic systems, smart devices of all stripes, etc. is unsustainable and will most likely be abandoned, obsolete, or otherwise non-functioning in the future. Exactly when this happens is up for debate, but it is a question of when, not if.

The reason I am writing this is to clarify what the degrowth movement is about and why even if it reaches critical mass soon, it still won't actually solve anything. Many people who aren't already aware of precisely what is involved and how much degrowth is required will be confused. This is partially due to simple explanations of degrowth which sound great but don't highlight the real challenge of personal, societal, and organizational behavior change. I want to try to infuse a bit of reality into the conversation. Just because something appears to be technically possible doesn't make it basically feasible, and some articles like this one paint a picture that just isn't in the cards. 

Two new articles point to the more realistic issues of denial of reality and optimism bias that we face within the paradigm of overshoot. One from Dave Pollard brings up our societal inability to admit failure. Anyone remember the "war on drugs" or the "war on terrorism"? Hmmm, drugs are still around and so is terrorism. The war in Afghanistan is yet another red flag in a long line of them. This was my intro for the article, quote:

"Take away the blame game, and you take away the shame. It’s no one’s fault, no one is to blame, and there’s nothing for anyone to be ashamed of. We are all doing our best. We are just another struggling species, eight billion mildly deranged monkeys, and certainly not the crown of creation. We can only do what we’ve been biologically and culturally conditioned to do, given the ever-changing circumstances of each moment.

But even if we move past the shame, we may still be incapable of admitting failure, because of fear of what other failures it might cause us to have to admit, or fear of the failure’s consequences. The fear of everything being out of our control (and out of the gods’ control) may be just too much to bear.

The second article delves once again into denial of reality with the dilemma of denial itself from Rob Mielcarski, quote:

"It’s simply not possible to craft a useful response to our overshoot reality until the majority becomes aware that a powerful genetic force is blocking its ability to see the reality.

Unfortunately, there’s a Catch-22: MORT predicts that MORT will be denied and therefore if MORT is correct then MORT will never be acknowledged.

Perhaps someone smarter than me will figure out a path around this Catch-22, I don’t know. Regardless, I still find value in MORT because it keeps me sane by providing a scientific explanation for why so many are so blind to so much that is so obvious.

The Catch-22 may explain why after 10 years of work I have built very little momentum and have scant few successes at spreading awareness of MORT into the 99% of citizens and leaders that aggressively deny reality.

Neither of those two articles leave me feeling good as to our prospects for getting out of the hole we're in. What's worse, is that in this article one can clearly see the pickle we're in when leaders point to yet more technology not seeing that it is precisely what is causing the overshoot they want to use technology to fix and the magical technology they want to use does not yet exist (and never will). More bargaining and denial won't make the general public reach acceptance of the predicaments we face.

Before I close this article in the last paragraph, a new article caught my eye that confirmed one of my worst fears. A year or two ago in a discussion, a friend and I talked about what will happen as energy and resource decline grabs a foothold and fossil fuel use becomes something more aligned with those who can actually afford it at that point and a broad majority of people begin heating once again with firewood, like we did for hundreds of thousands of years before fossil fuels were discovered. We discussed that during cold snaps when more wood was needed that hadn't been planned on, people would resort to burning trash, plastic, or even old furniture that happened to be available. Enter the war in Ukraine and now those who can't afford to heat their homes and businesses with fossil fuels or electricity turn to wood. Also in that entry from Alice Friedemann is more information about tree decline and deforestation which I highlighted in my article about trees a year and a half ago. Trees make up one of our biosphere's largest carbon sinks and they are now being turned into carbon sources. The same is true with permafrost, which is also rapidly disappearing and turning from a sink to a source. The last major sink is phytoplankton, rapidly being done in by the dying of the oceans as shown here and here and here. As a result, this in and of itself has turned into yet another positive feedback loop, adding yet more emissions to a system already overloaded with them.

Oops, just one more paragraph...sorry, yesterday when I added the above paragraph, I hadn't yet seen this article that I just MUST share. Something that most of us all thought was safe, just like so many other products, is now known to be not so safe after all. The very last sentence of the article is also the most prescient, quote: 

" 'As a society we have to decide what to do about this problem,' he said."  

It's NOT a problem, folks, it's a PREDICAMENT

As I pointed out in my last article, the likelihood that ecological overshoot will be dealt with in a manner that might actually reduce it is fairly remote given the circumstances, so don't postpone your joy - Live Now!


  1. As always a masterpiece . The links to supporting articles is so very much appreciated

  2. A couple of years ago I came across an article showing how much carbon can be used this century without going over 1.5c.
    I assumed a steady population, and divided the carbon budget so everyone got the same, then divided by the years left this century. I got 580kgs co2 per person, per year. About what a !kung bushperson uses.
    So, degrowth, if serious, means the whole world owning nothing, wearing nothing, sleeping outside, eating what they catch, drinking water from natural springs.
    Too many of us for that.
    Game over.
    Might as well enjoy life while we can.

  3. Excellent insights, Erik.

    I have similarly found that the vast majority of those that post and comment on Degrowth sites/pages tend towards a significantly watered-down version of what likely needs to happen if we are to be able to mitigate, to even a marginal extent, the consequences of our ecological overshoot.

    Sometimes it's about taking from the 'advantaged' and redistributing to the 'disadvantaged'; sometimes it's about 'clean/green' technology; sometimes it's about reducing our consumption; sometimes it's about replacing 'capitalism' with a more equitable economic system; sometimes it's about...the list goes on.

    But it is rarely, if ever, about the degree to which our systems have to change for any kind of noticeable impact upon our trajectory. Such voices are not only ignored/denied for the most part, but contemptuously attacked in some cases. I've had my Contemplation posts, for example, deemed too radical for some to allow for their site/page; and in other cases the ad hominem abuses abound as I'm perceived as a shill for Big Oil, or against human progress.

    But perhaps it’s as Arthur Schopenhauer stated: “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”

    The idea that we are completely and utterly fubar is not one many people wish to contemplate. And all those psychological mechanisms we have to fight off anxiety-provoking thoughts kick in strongly in the face of such a prognosis—especially denial of reality.

    The idea of the widespread adoption and distribution of electric vehicles and non-renewable, renewable energy-harvesting technologies are perfect examples. And as I point out in my latest Contemplation, and you discuss, the bargaining about these consists of denial about: the role fossil fuels play in their production; the mineral limits imposed by existence upon a finite planet; the ecological systems destruction being carried out to produce them.

    Our elite are crafting narratives that the industries they control/profit from can ‘save’ us and the masses are gobbling it up in their attempts to reduce their cognitive dissonance. And, unfortunately, many in the ‘degrowth’ movement seem to be amongst those wanting to do the ‘right’ thing but being led astray by faulty storylines.

    As I conclude in an upcoming Contemplation: “…it’s perhaps also no surprise that the dominant story-telling apes amongst us in our large, complex societies have crafted narratives that the institutions that they control/direct/influence are almighty and powerful; never mind those biogeophysical limits and their nasty consequences over there, our technology and ingenuity will reign supreme no matter the problem encountered. Criticisms and naysayers be damned!

    Here, take the blue pill already…”


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Welcome to Problems, Predicaments, and Technology

What Would it Take for Humanity to Experience Radical Transformation?

More Cognitive Dissonance

Denial of Reality

Fantasies, Myths, and Fairy Tales

So, What Should We Do?

The Myth of The "Energy Transition"

What is NTHE and How "near" is Near Term?