Some Convenient Truths

Much of what we discuss at theoildrum is about supply - pinpointing problems and/or advantages of existing and future energy technologies. These are the 'means' by which society meets its day to day demands. But little time, (and certainly not equal time) is devoted to discussing the 'ends' - what is all this energy for. As many of you know, I am completing my Phd in Natural Resources at The University of Vermont, with a specialization in Ecological Economics. This hybrid field asserts that the economy is just a part of a larger planetary system (as opposed to the planet and its resources being just part of the economy). EE attempts to evaluate (monetarily and otherwise) the things the market system takes for granted (fresh air and water, biodiversity, healthy dolphin populations, stable climate, etc.) But a growing subset of ecological economists are addressing the 'ends'. By digging into the empirical datapoints that comprise human happiness, we are finding we can be happier with far less energy use. I initially wrote about this here. Below is a short essay, also posted on Grist, co-authored by my advisor Robert Costanza. In my opinion, the questions these authors raise should be preceding or at least accompanying policy discussions on how we decide to obtain and allocate more energy. Ends before means.

The work of recent Nobel Peace Prize winners Al Gore and the IPCC, along with a veritable mountain of other evidence, clearly lays out the reality and potential costs of human-induced climate change. Most analyses have concluded that we can and must keep our economies growing while addressing the climate challenge; we need only reduce the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases we produce. We can do this, they say, by using more efficient light bulbs, driving more fuel-efficient cars, better insulating our homes, buying windmills and solar panels, etc. While we agree that these things need to happen (and the sooner the better), it is clear that they will not be enough to solve the big problems the world faces.

The inconvenient truth is that to ensure quality of life for future generations, the world's wealthiest societies cannot continue our current lifestyles and patterns of economic growth. Further, the large proportion of humanity living in poverty must be able to satisfy basic human needs without aspiring to an overly materialistic lifestyle.

Does this inconvenient truth mean doom and despair? Absolutely not. Indeed, we think this seemingly inconvenient truth is actually a blessing in disguise, for our high-consuming lifestyles and western patterns of economic growth are not actually improving our well-being: they are not only unsustainable, they are undesirable.

Scientists are discovering a convenient truth: our happiness does not depend on the consumption of conventional economic goods and services, but instead is enhanced when we have more time and space for socializing, for nature, for learning, and for really living instead of just consuming.

For example, University of Southern California economist Richard Easterlin has demonstrated that well-being tends to correlate well with health, level of education, and marital status, but with income only to a fairly low threshold. He concludes that "a reallocation of time in favor of family life and health would, on average, increase individual happiness."

Cornell economist Robert Frank, in his 2000 book "Luxury Fever", similarly concludes that overall national well-being would be higher if we consumed less and spent more time with family and friends, working for our communities, maintaining our physical and mental health, and enjoying the benefits of nature.

And British economist Richard Layard's 2005 book "Happiness: Lessons From a New Science" echoes many of these ideas and concludes that current economic policies are not improving happiness and that "happiness should become the goal of policy, and the progress of national happiness should be measured and analyzed as closely as the growth of GNP." The country of Bhutan now uses "Gross National Happiness" as its explicit policy goal.

Other research demonstrates that when people "buy into" the materialistic messages of consumer society, they report lower levels of life satisfaction, more depression and anxiety, and more physical health problems. What's more, one study in the UK suggests that people with lifestyles that require high ecological inputs are no happier than those with more sustainable lifestyles, and another in the U.S. suggests that happy people live in more ecologically responsible ways.

Although consuming the Earth's resources doesn't seem to make us happy, there is substantial and growing evidence that intact nature contributes heavily to human well-being. The annual, non-market value of the services that natural ecosystems provide to humanity (like purifying air and water) has been estimated to be substantially larger than global GDP.

These convenient truths mean that we can solve the problems of climate change and create a sustainable and more desirable future. But to do so we must give up the false connection between material consumption and well-being. We must refocus our policy goals on quality of life (all life) rather than quantity of consumption. This is not a sacrifice. On the contrary, failure to do so is the real sacrifice, not only of our own happiness, but that of our progeny.

These convenient truths are thus prescriptions not for less, but for ways we can have more of the things that really matter.


Robert Costanza is the Gordon and Lulie Gund Professor of Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont in Burlington, VT

Susan Joy Hassol is Director of Climate Communication in Basalt, CO

Tim Kasser is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Knox College in Galesburg, IL

James Gustave Speth is Dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, in New Haven, CN

A colleague recently suggested what to me is a great idea. Instead of 'Wife Swap' or "Survivor", we enlist some funding and Madison Avenue help to design a TV series/empirical experiment called something like "Footprint Swap", where a rich family from NYC or somewhere goes and lives on a farm for 3 months and a poor, rural family goes and lives the high life in a big city, complete with SUVs, $100/night dinners, and lots of conspicuous consumption.

In addition to viewers watching this in real time, we could have scientists monitor the progress, or lack thereof, of the two (or more) samples with regards to health, attitude, happiness, hedonic adaptation, etc. Follow up shows could show the reaction after the people went back to their original lifestyles.

We need the best marketing people to show the general population, by example in the media, that keeping up with the Joneses, by definition, means you will always be keeping up with the Joneses, and on a planet with finite limits, will burn through not only oil, but wind, solar and biomass as well. I know it to be true - that once basic needs are met, marginal happiness increases very little with pecuniary accomplishments - how to market it is the big question...

Any TV producers out there?

Didn't Paris and Nicole already do that?

Perhaps an indepth EE annalsis of the hit show Green Acres?

Sorry I will crawl back under my bridge now.

Well Nate my personal policy is " I don't want to keep up with the Jones' & Smiths of society, I like impressing the mennonites"

buy used gadges and save money, IF, I really need it.

Regards and thanks

I'll run it by my ex wife, I like the idea.
I will be there next week for the holidays and back here early January.


The real problem with shifting people's utility functions (as it were) is the problem of unilateral disarmament.

Many of us recognize that we could collectively be happy with less money and fewer things, and more time and more friendship.

Unfortunately, we also realize that the benefits of those potential actions are partly related to living in a society in which everyone steps back from the competitive game a little.

The danger for me in stepping back, while my society races ahead, while my neighbors invest more in their kids education, more in their jobs, more in their personal success is that I and my family will personally fall behind. There is a real chance that I will experience the inequality in ways that negatively counterbalance the value of what I gain.

We also know that unequal societies (and particularly the experience of being low on social hierarchies) have direct somatic effects on individual health and longevity. It takes a very strong will and sense of self to pursue a status lowering path alone or alone with one's family. Most people are afraid of doing so, and with good reason.

For this reason, I think that there needs to be a collective decision to move in a direction away from competition, material acquisitions, status seeking, etc..

It is very hard to imagine how the U.S. will get to that collective decision. Perhaps that is one reason that phenomena like Peak Oil which might force a reorientation of daily life, or global climate change which might (how?) require a governmental response, seem to offer disaster mixed with hope, particularly for the U.S.

Will nature force us to do what we clearly lack the collective will to do? Disaster might be our only hope. Unfortunately disaster could also be simply disastrous.

Then again, if we consider the Cuban experience, we can observe a disaster (demise of Soviet Union and loss of its oil supply) that in some ways may have improved a society. Did Cuba only succeed in coming through because of its authoritarian but collectivist ideology? Could the U.S. make positive hay of a peak oil crisis, or is the only response we could put together in the U.S. essentially an every person and every industry for itself response that would only deepen inequalities and fragment society?

Now, I've posited a contrast between purely individual actions versus collective actions. But I wonder what you really mean when you say:

These convenient truths are thus prescriptions not for less, but for ways we can have more of the things that really matter.

Is that we "each of us", or we "all of us"? The path matters, and I don't think the individual path will get us there. Perhaps you are proposing that lots of people committed to individual actions could push us toward collective action. Maybe that is true. Let's hope so. But let's also remember that stepping out of the rat race in a rat race society is a very scary step for most people. Figuring out how to reward and support that step is critically important.

(Universal health care might be a good start... by the way. Imagine that... universal health care, enables people to adopt jobs and lifestyles that are less damaging to the planet, and thus becomes an essential component in slowing global climate change. What a nice thought. So many employment decisions today stem from the need for health care coverage, leading people into the embrace of large organizations that require them to work too long for goals that ultimately harm the planet. Just enabling people to break the corporate embrace if they wanted to do so could be a wonderful thing for old Planet Earth.)


Unilateral disarmament is one way to look at it, and not an incorrect one. There may (hopefully) come a point when communities and regional/local leaders show by example that it doesnt hurt to change ones aspirations. But you are correct - people will aspire to whatever society says is the target - right now ours is money.

(interesting side note: money is unlimited (we can always print more), while energy, food and water, are finite) Our societal goal is unlimited! (actually our societal goal is moving up the mating ladder and having resources for our offspring - we are just being told in todays world that money/status have the highest correlations with this goal)

"We also know that unequal societies (and particularly the experience of being low on social hierarchies) have direct somatic effects on individual health and longevity."

I believe the Swiss recently did a study of the effects of participation and government policy on people's happiness. One of the things they compared was citizens - ie, those who would be consulted on policy - and non-citizens - ie those who legally had no voice.

What they found was only about a third of a person's happiness and satisfaction about government policies depended on the actual policies, the other two-thirds was being consulted. The non-citizens, even if the government was doing what they wanted it to, they were unhappy because they weren't being consulted. And the citizens, even if the government was doing something against their wishes, they were happy if they were being consulted.

Democracy cheers you up, apparently. Feeling you have a voice, and that your voice is being listened to.

Nate,I think you are really on to something here! I myself quit watching TV about a year and a half ago and have no intention of going back. However as an upside I do get to spend more time enjoying things like this: Beyond Belief: Enlightenment 2.0 on the internet, it is quite a ride, check it out: There were quite a few speakers who addressed the topic of happiness at many levels.

Of course I still have to deal with the complete insanity of the day to day world we live in, a co-worker of mine who I happen to know can't afford to do so, just informed me he is thinking about getting a Lincoln Navigator, I'm sure it will make him immensely happy. BTW I just got home from a job site I was working on where there are empty 4 million dollar second homes with his and her Bentleys languishing in the parking garage. So I guess your marketing folks are going to have their work cut out for them. Cheers!

Well, the Amish already do this... when their kids turn 18, they send to live in New York for a year or two, to see if they like it there or would rather come back home. I believe a bit over half go back home eventually.

I don't know if they'd want to televise their experience, though.

Do they really? I had no idea..And I never saw an Amish when I lived there -if you mean NYC...?

The Mennonites send the boys out only, not the girls. The young Mennonite girls had too much fun and tended to stay more than the boys did.
There is also some sexual selection going on. If you want to have kids, a Mennonite community is a much better place to raise them. You can support a family easier than in a city.

This is one of the biggest fallacies out there, that resource use ("footprint") is closely correlated with expenditure of money.

1) Wealthy New Yorkers (in Manhattan) don't have SUVs. If they do, they only drive them every other weekend.

2)) A "$100/night" dinner consumes no more resources, on balance, than making dinner at home for $5. How much can you eat? Actually, wealthy New Yorkers eat less, on average, than rural poor (just look at their waistline).

3) Many rural families use resources at an alarming rate. I think someone posted here about their home in Maine with an outside wood-fired boiler that went through TWENTY CORDS of wood in a winter!! Do you have any idea how much twenty cords is???? I had no idea such waste even existed. When I lived in Vermont, we had four-bedroom houses that we heated with THREE CORDS for winter. Once, I had a three-story, seven-bedroom house with two leaky, crappy, inefficient woodstoves that burned a ridiculous, preposterous, insane SIX cords of wood! Six cords! That's a pile eight feet wide, twenty-four feet long and four feet high. I know. I stacked it.

In comparison, a typical 1000 square foot two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan can be heated for about $100 a month in natgas. My winter bills at my 700sf one-bedroom place in Jersey City were about $75 above the summer bills, if I recall. That was an uninsulated, 1880s-ish brick building. You could do much better with modern construction.

There is a very important difference between direct (narrow) and indirect(wide) boundary analysis. All that food in New York, had to be shipped from all over the world. I didnt mean to pick on New York in my example, but we have to look at the total footprint underlying ones lifestyle - even if one makes millions and doesn't spend a penny, their employer likely uses a great deal of resources.

Regarding wood and natural gas - I will repost my analysis on that tomorrow - $ are irrelevant - it takes alot of wood to replaces natural gas and heating oil...

Now we are on to the second major fallacy common around here, that not growing food in your backyard is some kind of environmental sin. Cities have been around for thousands of years, and they have always gotten their food from somewhere else. New York City used to be fed by New Jersey, Connecticut and the farms upstate accessible by the Hudson. This was not really any different than Alexandria being fed by farmers upstream on the Nile. Nothing particularly unsound about that. Indeed, given how long its been going on, I would say it's about the most "sustainable" pattern that anyone could ever hope to find.

That was a straw man fallacy!

C'mon, eating food in NYC that comes from New Jersey is technically "from the backyard".

I agree! But the religious types around here will whack you on the knuckles with a stick if you bring it up. If you aren't picking slugs off your backyard tomatoes, no greenie points for you! The idea of the "division of labor" is a bit too much of a mind bender, apparently.

Cities are large groups of people who exceed the carrying capacity of their environment. Which means trade is necessary. Which means resources must be brought in from elsewhere. Which means more energy expended to move necessary resources over a distance, and which means war if someone else doesn't want to trade.

I believe your argument is inaccurate.

Spending money does not necessarily have to correlate highly with energy consumption.

That is true, but it takes prudent, planned and wise spending (like having an energy radar on for every spending one does and also not consuming more service units more than those with less money).

However, on the average (i.e. statistically) money expenditure correlates very highly with energy consumption.

People who have more money buy more highly refined products (higher input / service unit) and they buy more of them in quantity (more service units).

These both translate into higher energy consumption.

This is especially true, if one measures energy consumption in energy units (like Joules) and not monetary units (dollars).

I'll dig up references later, if you want. There should be plenty.

The main point is this: there is a difference between it is _possible_ to spend less and spending less in _reality_

In 99% of the cases, reality overrides possibles.

But the money spent by you doesn't disappear, it keeps circulating. The next guy in the chain may have different priorities, so in the end I think it averages out to more income=more impact. Money, in practice, is just a way of rationing resources, goods, services, energy etc. in a society.

Wealthy New Yorkers take a lot of airplane flights.

Wealth is in fact highly correlated with energy usage. Also, New York City does not have an especially low per capita energy usage.

Wealth is highly correlated with house size and number of vehicles owned, but from this it does not follow that if you move into a smaller house and have just one vehicle you'll become less wealthy, though many wealthy people do think so.

High wealth encourages high energy consumption, but from this it does not follow that lowering energy consumption will lower wealth, though many wealthy people do think so.

I know wealthy people who own homes in multiple cities (in one case NYC, DC, St. Louis, Houston, and Coronado Beach). Their energy usage in each city is pretty low. The NYC condo isn't occupied for that many months of the year. Well, plenty of wealthy people own in NYC and also in Madrid or London or Cape Cod or wherever. Sure, they don't use so much energy in NYC. How wonderful of them.

I remember reading the results of a survey on TOD months ago, where the survey looked at the religious beliefs (if any) of TOD members. I can't recall the details, but in essence most subscribed to no formal religious beliefs.

When I read Nate's piece here, I think to myself "how very Franciscan," and --what I've often seen in groups discussing him or religious topics-- "live simply so that others may simply live."

If the message is 'live simply so that others may simply live', it won't sell - people may give it lip service but the average american doesn't care whats happening in Zimbabwe at the moment.

If the message is 'live simpler because you'll be happier and healthier', and this is backed up by empirical studies, evidence and images/video, then it might work.

Because at some crossover point in the GINI coefficient, even the very rich will have lower quality of life, because of the spite built up in the have-not class.

I don't know if my experience in the boondocks is germane to this but almost the first question out of city people's mouths when they vist us is, "What do you do?" meaning what are your outside activites. The reality is that we don't "do" what city/suburban people do, i.e., go to restaurants, movies, shows, etc. Hell, we even stopped getting TV some years ago.

It seems to me that people no longer take responsibility for their activities but rather expect someone else to provide them. Further, it appears they want active rather than passive involvement. By this I mean they aren't content to simply go with flow of life but rather want to cheer on a team or something.

For example, the big summer afternoon activity around here was to go down to the creek and skinny dip. It was quiet and serene. I'm quite happy watching the bees gather water at our pond or pruning the fruit trees while watching the turkey vultures soar overhead.

Finally, one very influential book for me was The Pursuit of Loneliness by Phillip Slater, 1970, pre-ISBN. I highly recommend it!


As much as it pains me, I have to agree with Nat. To "live simply so others may simply live" is too inconvient and runs aground/amok on people's immediate want for satisfaction.

That is why in classical Christian theology there is assigned a role for two shepherds: the shephered who bears the staff (the bishop with the crozier) and the shepherd who bears the rod (the prince with the scepter). One, the agent of grace, leads those who seek to do the right thing b/c it's the right thing to do. The other, the agent of law, is there to coerce, regulate and browbeat the unrepentant and sullied flock into line. It is hardly a perfect arrangement, nothing with human beings ever is, and historically has never been fully realized.

Faint echoes of the "ideal" are still with us today.

Why else would anyone submit and subject themselves to the rule of law and the decrees of the magistrate except by a tacit recognition, anarchists and libertarians notwithstanding, that it is for our own good.

I suspect, too, that the rich, once they realize that they will have a "lower quality to life because of the spite built up in the have-not class" will do what the elites usually do. That is, appeal to the prince to restore order.

Appealing to people's sense of self-interest "live simpler because you'll be happier and healthier" may work in the short run. But reigning in the paradigm of ever expanding economic growth will happen regardless b/c it is unsustainable.

If only we will be blessed to have someone like St. Francis or Mahatma Gandhi to lead the way. If history is any indication, however, it will be a leader like Genghis Khan.

I do not think that empirical studies on lifestyles that produce happiness will have much effect on people’s actions. We have tons and tons of hard, objective data on the effects of excess body weight on cardiovascular health and yet the United States population continues to be one of the most obese in the world. I do not think the problem is that people do not care about what is happening in Zimbabwe; It’s that they have no conception of any practical action that they could take to help Zimbabwe. If we all started living simply tomorrow the result would a monster recession and massive unemployment. That’s why there is a gigantic fantastically well funded propaganda machine constantly urging people to buy, buy, buy all of the time. Furthermore our salaries, our 401K funds etc. are strongly dependent on our companies’ constantly expanding their sales volumes. Promoting formal psychological studies on happiness producing lifestyles while ignoring the underlying political and social structures which strongly promote destructive economic behavior is a complete absurdity.

depends what the triggers are - if the trigger is that the Jones are happier than you, and Mr Jones is more likely to impress hot Katy down the street (definition of 'hot' also subject to change), then it will work. Or if it leads to more 'resources', defined as something different than digits in the bank - perhaps largest cucumbers, most birds at ones feeder, most knowledge of water and nitrogen, etc. Something other than conspicuous consumption - even now I know some very rich people that are starting to 'get it' that more stuff hasn't made them happier - we need a) a tipping point of this recognition and simultaneously b)a practical, easy-to-do and desirable transition.

Highly improbable but possible. Then the global depletion rate will not be able to keep up with demand destruction, instead of vice versa.

Sweden is running a national experiment in what happens when you ban transfats. In a year we will know if banning transfats will make everyone in the US lose five percent of their body weight and make us about as thin as we used to be.
Or not.

Perhaps many have a limited understanding of the problem of obesity. Would you expect education alone to have an impact on alcoholism? pathological gambling? That expectation in and of itself reveals a misunderstanding of the problem. Intransigent human behavior requires more powerful sustained interventions than providing information alone.

Clearly, the deeply engrained beliefs we have about our identity as Americans, about economics, about what constitutes welfare make education an essential, but insufficient tool for change. When you speak of underlying social and political structures underlying econmic behavior, you are advocating something, but I'm not sure what it is. What do you believe would, if implemented, accomplish a transition from mad growth to sustainablility?

See my post further below for my ideas (perhaps not very practical) for creating a wealth maintaining economy.

$N$ - I know that receiving comments can make one happy. I think there are a range of fundamental needs we must have to be happy:

• enough food
• warmth, clothing, shelter and a degree of comfort
• good health
• sex
• companionship (family and friends)
• absence of fear
• for some, knowledge and understanding
• and lets admit it - for many more, religion and faith
• and for others power

If anyone wants to add to the list...

Delivering all this in an energy decline world is a major challenge.


Feel free to throw this on the list:

- meaning and purpose (reason to get up in the morning)

You maybe need to plant some potatoes and tomatoes to assuage your hunger and boost your libido?

Actually, the only two I see on your list that have anything to do with energy/oil are food and the warmth/clothing/shelter cluster.

And then there is a question of whether the problem will be in "delivering" these or in "delivering" as much as we are used to.

Ok - so here is the challenge. Good health to the age of 80 in a Medieval agrarian society. Coping with appendicitis, toothache, earache, retained placenta, cancer and broken bones - all without the energy zero rated health system we seem to have today

Euan, and all others here.

I am sorry, but we WILL NOT give up our lifestyles to help others.

We do not care enough about Zimbabwe or Darfur or any other hell hole.

In fact, I would posit that we are subconciously happy that they fail and die so that we may live...

Ever been proud of something?

Like your kid getting straight A's while next doors kid slipped a grade or two? However much you surpress such feelings, however much you try and straight face it, there is that little devil at the back of your brain,
saying 'yeah, its good to win'.

That is the limbic system kicking in with a brain chemical reward. Its why we cheer our kids at rugby, or even that other game.

The Germans (bless them!) even got a word for it: Schadenfreude...

We are hard wired to compete. At each and every level from family, neighbor, village, shire and nation

The brain chemistry was in place 6 million years ago. All we have done since then is refine it; and translate it to amassing material wealth.

We are trapped in these parameters. Our sublime initial success as brainy hunter gatherers will, ultimately be cause of our demise.

And then , something else will come along and carve a niche... (Originally I was a hard rock geologist. I know how long the planet - Mark II , btw , has been around. I have rocks in my rockery that are seriously older than any God , lizard or cyanobacteria).


But maybe thats what the GREENPEACE NAZIS Actually want to happen. They hate all forms of technology. They hate Nukes, they hate fusion research. They hate tidal barriers. They hate carbon capture. They want 'Hobbiton' for the few remaining specimens, but will settle for:

'Mine schafts, where animals kud be bred and slachtered!
und a cross section off skills could be preservedt. Naturally der monogamus relationshiop vud be suspendeded und a ratio of six females to each male vud be required.
Naturally der females must haf exceptional sexual attributes in order for ze males to perform such prodigious sexual feats.'.

They hate all human endeavour. And more than anything, they hate human individuality and spirit.

But solutions? - they offer none. Except of course the final solution.

Oh I there's absolutely nothing we can do but screw each other over at every level of society until we are wiped off the face of the earth?

Sorry, but some of us believe in evolution of the mind. You clearly understand the problem. The first step is understanding. The next step is formulating a solution. You are getting stuck on this step, and promoting despair instead.

Actually, what we are hard wired to do is survive, reproduce, and work for the reproductive success of our offspring.

In seeking to accomplish this goal we are no more hard wired to compete than we are hard wired to cooperate. We employ both strategies to ensure reproductive fitness.

Cooperation is the primary human survival and reproductive fitness strategy. Always has been, always will be.

Because I know that between two societies with the same average income, the less unequal society will have a higher level of health (and happiness and general sense of well being for everyone), I have a strong motivation to ensure that the bottom half of my society doesn't diverge too far from the top half. My self interest is tied to the creation of a more equal society. Go read the sociological and public health data on this question before you blather on about how individual striving is somehow natural, and competition the essence of life.

What is essential to life is a mix of competitive and cooperative strategies that maximize individual and group fitness.

The brain chemistry was in place 6 million years ago. All we have done since then is refine it; and translate it to amassing material wealth.

I agree with your initially-made points, though am always encouraged to see this kind of out-of-the-box thinking by Nate discussed, since it just may not be impossible to improve the situation. And I've been a geologist with a nice old rock collection. It's like you can almost sense the time they've been around. I have an ammonite (the nautiloid sort, not the biblical sort) which sits above my computer monitor for perspective.

But maybe thats what the GREENPEACE NAZIS Actually want to happen. They hate all forms of technology. They hate Nukes, they hate fusion research>

They hate all human endeavour. And more than anything, they hate human individuality and spirit.

If your point is that it's useful to demonize a target group to achieve motivation, it's certainly proven to be a winning strategy in the past. How those subhuman greenpeacers hate us and hate everything decent!

I may be out of touch - I haven't interacted with British GPers in some time, and I'd be the first to admit that greenpeacer's can be a pain in the ass, having known many. It rather went with the territory since I was involved in the early years of creating that particular group.

So saying, every movement has idiots. I think they're by-and-large more harmless than 'business as usual', though I have some definite issues with them.

But not everyone so inclined is an idiot. I knew several who weren't. As for myself, I have worked towards fusion research for decades.

Admittedly, they may have become an evil cult since then and if so I suppose they must be killed. But last time I looked, they were just annoyingly right about some stuff.

Adjust the dosage, please!

Your Hogan's Heroes rant on Greenpeace was some fine, irrational Hyperbole. Someone piss you off at work today or something?

'Shadenfreude uber alles' is a piece of Anthropology worthy of Matt Savinar, if anyone, and I hope you don't see that as a compliment. I'm sorry if someone taught you to be secretly happy when your neighbor's kid is getting low grades.. this comic-book image of 'competitiveness' is beneath you. Sure we can be competitive, but it has many faces, and only some of them are the cruel and shallow ones that seem to have your Limbic System in a thrall at the moment.

"...that we are subconciously happy that they fail and die so that we may live..."

Right. Speak for yourself.

Mudlogger, I too am a hard rock geologist, having worked with isotopes and geochronology for much of my career - I bet you my rocks are older than yours.

I share your frustration with the the "Environmental movement" - though would express that frustration rather differently.

As you point out "these movements" are pretty much anti-everything - scenery, ducks, Norwegian trout and the ice caps - all need to be protected. At one level I agree with their enthusiasm for protecting nature from itself but at another level accept that certain compromises will have to be reached if our society is to transition to a higher plane.

Two events that shaped UK and European energy policy in the 1980s were Chernobyl and the plight of Norwegian trout. Combined, and with the advent of N Sea gas, this led Europe on a dash away from nuclear and coal to burning nat gas at an alarming rate to the point where our supplies are depleted and that leaves us in a more vulnerable position today than we may otherwise have been.

As you know the UK government has done a U turn on off shore wind - and I asked Chris Vernon if he knew the reasons behind it - climate change or energy decline. Chris said it didn't matter. The official reason is climate change - but I suspect the real reason is energy decline. Personally I think it is absolutely vital that decisions are made for the right reasons and that those reasons are declared.

How does the opinion of the general public towards the welfare of ducks in the Severn Estuary become modified if the potential effects of energy decline on hospitals, schools and food distribution is explained to them properly. *ck the ducks I think will be the response.

Same goes for nuclear - the hazards of waste storage need to be balanced against the hazards of food rotting in supermarket freezers.

The media, politicians and our political systems all need to be under the microscope at the same time as Green Peace - IMO.

The behavioral aspects of this problem are truly fascinating. A good starting point is to realise that different things make different people happy - there is no single answer. I also believe in moving on and up - and so am not convinced by models and ideas that borrow too heavily on past experiences.

How old is water?

If matter is never created nor destroyed, then the hydrogen and oxygen atoms that make up water molecules are as old as all the other atoms in the universe.

"The influence of the metropolis has grown overwhelmingly strong. Its asphalt culture is destroying peasant thinking, the rural lifestyle and [national] strength." - Nazi newspaper in 1938

The BNP Website:(I wonder what they mean by 'all its forms'...)

ENVIRONMENT - a cleaner, greener future!
Our ideal for Britain is that of a clean, beautiful country, free of pollution in all its forms. We will enforce standards to curb those practices, whether by business or the individual, which cause environmental damage. “The polluter pays to clean up the mess” must become a fact of life, not an electioneering slogan. In towns we would work to replace the brutalist modernism of 1960s-style-architecture with a blend of traditional local styles and materials and ensure that developments take place on a more human scale.


Against the tidal barrier:

Against Carbon capture:

Against Nukes:

Against fusion research:

Pro – Death:
"If radical environmentalists were to invent a disease to bring human populations back to sanity, it would probably be something like AIDS. It [AIDS] has the potential to end industrialism, which is the main force behind the environmental crises."

And how very charming:

-Earth First! newsletter
"We in the Green movement, aspire to a cultural model in which the killing of a forest will be considered more contemptible and more criminal than the sale of 6-year-old children to Asian brothels."

-Carl Amery, Green Party of West Germany

Some more on kids:

"Childbearing [should be] a punishable crime against society, unless the parents hold a government license.... All potential parents [should be] required to use contraceptive chemicals, the government issuing antidotes to citizens chosen for childbearing."
-David Brower, Friends of the Earth

"The right to have children should be a marketable commodity, bought and traded by individuals but absolutely limited by the state."
-Keith Boulding, originator of the "Spaceship Earth" concept

Global cooling: (oops, where are they now?)

The continued rapid cooling of the earth since WWII is in accord with the increase in global air pollution associated with industrialisation, mechanisation, urbanisation and exploding population."
- Reid Bryson, "Global Ecology; Readings towards a rational strategy for Man", 1971

The rapid cooling of the earth since World War II is also in accord with the increased air pollution associated with industrialization, and an exploding population.
- Reid Bryson, "Environmental Roulette", 1971

An increase by only a factor of 4 in the global aerosol background concentration may be sufficient to reduce the surface temperature by as much as 3.5 deg. K. If sustained over a period of several years, such a temperature decrease over the whole globe is believed to be sufficient to trigger an ice age. - S.I Rasool and S.H. Schneider
Science, v173, p138, 9/7/1971.

"This [cooling] trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century"
- Peter Gwynne, Newsweek 1976

"This cooling has already killed hundreds of thousands of people. If it continues and no strong action is taken, it will cause world famine, world chaos and world war, and this could all come about before the year 2000."
- Lowell Ponte "The Cooling", 1976

Many have a need for achievement, passion, intoxication. Intimacy is also a powerful need apart from companionship and sex; to be known well and to know another well is a means and an end it itself.

The problem of how this transformation is going to happen when corporations control the media is the big question.

It seems like there will be a transition that is already starting--more solar panels on houses, more investment in wind, etc.

And many people SEE the problems.

But the MSM won't let us have the stage.

They will manage the crisis for us: that's their power.

Even Al Gore is a marginal figure.

MSM would have to be DISMANTLED for a real discussion to occur on these issues.

And for that to happen, corporations, or at least SOME of them would have to be put under public control.

That's the sort of 'minimal revolution' required to put 'reforms' on the table.

Great topic and essay, Nate. We are blessed to have many, here in the US and elsewhere, on which we can creatively draw to imagine the future and make the inevitable transition out of the high energy/growth culture.

Thomas Jefferson, for instance.

In this vein, I was very inspired by Frances Moore Lappe's "Rediscovering America's values". I see she has a new book out "Getting a grip : clarity, creativity, and courage in a world gone mad" - anyone read it?

MSM would have to be DISMANTLED for a real discussion to occur on these issues.

Luckily this is happening, if not quickly. The Internet is a big help in this regard.

But little time, (and certainly not equal time) is devoted to discussing the 'ends' - what is all this energy for.


Thanks for the post about a subject that is almost entirely neglected in the main articles on TOD. If our economic system is not structurally fixed then all of the clever engineering in the world is not going to save us from civilizational collapse. However, I am sceptical of the idea of maintaining competitive accumulation of private wealth as the foundation stone of our economic system and grafting on ‘happiness indicators’ to limit the damage resulting from the scramble for individual security. The fundamental goal of economic activity should be the creation of stable community wealth, and thus mutual support should be emphasized over competition. Wealth does not exist apart from the community. If you were stranded alone on an island rich in energy and other production resources, you would not be very wealthy no matter how intelligent, talented, and hard working you were. Particular communites may be able to increase their wealth in some specific circumstances even in a post fossil fuel future, but there is no reason why that increase in wealth should be accompanied by large differential accumulations of private wealth.

Personally, I do not think that a switch to a community emphasis in economics needs to imply a complete abandoment of the market, but the market needs to be tamed. It should be our servant and not our master. If the market is to be retained then fundamental reforms are need. First no one should be able to earn money without laboring for it. The phenomenon of money earning money needs to disappear from the face of the earth. Of course we will still need to invest in manufacturing infrastructure, but that investment should be done by the community, and the return on the investment will be the products and services produced, not profits for private financiers. Financial investment will disappear, although savings will still exist.

Secondly, the range of salaries need to be greatly restricted. The purpose of working will be to earn food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and some degree of social amenties, not to amass a private fortune.

Long term security will come from the community. Since, as a contributing member of the community you are helping to support old and sick people, when your turn comes you will be supported in turn. That is we will have essentially a universal system of social security. Community support is an objective fact today. Retired people are supported by the people who still work. If the workers of the world went on strike tommorow even Bill Gates would be out of luck.

Many people will say that if salaries are restricted productive people will just lay around the shanty all day and smoke pot. Not quite all day. They would still have to earn enough money for food, clothing, shelter, and pot. But this claim that no one will be motivated to do useful work without the motivation of personal riches is questionable. Alexandr Solshenitsyn in the Gualg Archipelago wrote about how he and a team of prisoners worked on a daily basis building stone walls in bitter cold conditions in Siberia. They were organized, disciplined, and took great pride in producing high quality work. People like to work and feel that they are contributing something valuable to society. Don’t forget the Greek mathematicians, the gothic artists and artesans of midieval Europe, or the Appollo space program. We need to find ways to honor people who are exceptional contributiors to community wealth, but if we continue to maintain that the only proper outlet for our entreprenurial and creative energies is the accumulation of private fortunes, then the destruction of public wealth will continue unabated.

One of the primary arguments against any sort of redistribution of wealth is that people will lose their incentive to maximize the production of material goods. While I never really believed that, anyway, we are at the point that a reduction in the production of material goods would be a good thing. So, I think those who argue against redistribution have been hung on their own petard.

The same goes for taxes. The argument is that we need to constantly lower taxes to provide incentives. No. The incentives we need is to consume and produce less, at least of those goods and services that contribute to depletion of resources and the cooking of the planet and all its inhabitants.

And as long as we brought up pot, one fear is that it will make people lazy. Bring on the pot.

What I think people have to realize is that this drive to compete and amass more "stuff" than the next guy is a very basic survival instinct, which rewards dominance. Competing for the sake of competition is useless, because it is simply that dominance gene getting the best of you. I could compete to become the furthest pisser in the world...and where would I be at the end of it? Competing for mutual learning and growth however, is very encouraged. They key is that competition should be an additional motive, not the sole motive for growth.

I think this is where our current economic system has spun out of control. We no longer compete for growth, but only for competition itself. CEO's don't care if they have billions of dollars, they just want to have more.

This is the definition of an unsustainable way of life.

What I think people have to realize is that this drive to compete and amass more "stuff" than the next guy is a very basic survival instinct, which rewards dominance.

An assertion with absolutely no evidence or even supporting argument. The least you could have done is give an example of a survival advantage resulting from having "more." But as it is, this is a throw away sentence that you have led with in the effort to make it appear to have some sort of "truth" value. But, until you support the statement somehow, it is just so much BS.

I thought it was a statement too obvious to require support. We have all seen the old millionaires with a young blonde on their arm, have we not? Unsurprisingly, males who remarry to younger women tend to have more offspring, while females who remarry to younger men cannot extend their reproductiove window in a similar way.

You may also be interested to read the recent study that found that men were happier simply knowing they earn more than a colleague, regardless of the actual salary.

Whether amassing more "stuff" should be a survival advantage is a different question. To some extent it is like the birds of paradise, excessive displays in themselves have no survival benefit, but they demonstrate that the male has lots of potential. In human terms, a male with an expensive car, watch etc demonstrates an excess of resources which could be redirected into rearing a child - health care, education etc.

It is pretty hard to shrug off 4 billion years of evolution, and say it has no influence on us. In practice it colors our every act.

The question is can we shift the cultural norms of reward systems away from the "bad" and towards the "good" via a massive marketing effort. You can still have the feathers in your cap, but they are biodegradable.

Imagine that. Marketing being used to promote less consumption.

I have actually come up with a few ideas and slogans...

Scene: beautiful woman holding gorgeous bouquet with smiling lover boy in background, talking to her friend, another knock-out.

"He doesn’t buy me flowers. He grows them for me. That’s hot!"

Scene: man and woman saddled up on same bike together, he's peddling away with muscular thighs, she's got arms wrapped around him and we can read her thoughts:

"His bike gets great mileage. That’s why I let him ride it all night long."

Scene: woman looking with disgust at a big ass truck, standing next to her best friend and commenting:

"I thought he was cute until I saw his big ass truck. What a looser."

Scene: guy talking to his guy buddy emphatically

"Ever since we downscaled and simplified our lives we have way more time for sex…great sex!"

Scene: woman rebuffing a man offering her a diamond ring.

"If you think I am that shallow there’s no way are you penetrating."

I have many more, but won't share them because I am looking to make a big profit selling them to a marketing firm.

Any takers?

I have many more, but won't share them because I am looking to make a big profit selling them to a marketing firm.


seriously though, those and others like them would work...but thats the rub, who makes money from downscaling and not buying things??

Money as 'correlated fitness' will have to change before these type of ads work. OR they could be financed by a philanthropist, or government.

Money can be made from selling not things but services services which require little or no energy.

Public performances of music and theatre, massages, counselling, teaching of skills, consulting on energy-saving measures, etc.

The money we save on not buying crap or using heaps of energy can instead be spent on services. I could go out and spend $1,000 in one hour today and come back with no physical object to show for it, and without having used any more energy than watching tv.

The decline of buying junk and burning through energy needn't mean instant economic collapse. People always find things to spend their money on.

Music, theatre, massages, counseling, teaching, and consulting all require large amounts of energy expenditure in agriculture to support the musicians, artists, therapists, counselors, and consultants who don't have to be working the fields to get the food they need. There is also the infrastructure needed to support the arts, sciences, and social institutions, requiring yet more energy and resources.

"Making money" ... an interesting, pervasive illusion. Money is a representation of the actual energy and resources necessary for people to provide things and perform services to other people.

The resources and energy available we exploit on a finite planet are also finite, and "making" money means you have a larger share of that same limited pie, and everyone else has smaller shares, relative to civilization's size and capability to exploit and own the planet's resources for sole human benefit (the pie).

The irony being in the end that after a certain point, more money, more things, more access, control, and power leave you less happy, feeling less secure because there's so much more to protect, less liked, less integrated, and more empty. But the act of acquisition, like an addictive response, still manages to trigger the brain's pleasure centers and provide one of the few sources of relief in an otherwise disconnected existence. It becomes important to protect that sole source of psychic sustenance, so the act of continually taking more while others have less is wrapped up in the idea of "making money", and promoted through capitalism.

Since it has never been about money, but rather the available resources and energy to generate more resources and energy, arguments about monetary inflation and deflation are of only tangential importance in the near future.

The issue is that there won't be enough energy and resources to go around.

I fear that predicting whether that's because of a money shortage (deflation) or of money dilution (inflation) will provide limited benefit, and focuses attention away from where it is needed more.

I wasn't aware that musicians, actors, masseurs, counsellors, teachers and consultants ate more than people working on a farm. Nor was I aware that the hall a musician or actor appeared in, or a teacher taught in, or the room for a masseur or counsellor used more resources than a warehouse for storing food, or the room in a person's house.

The idea that everyone should be out working the fields for their food or they're some kind of drain on society is one unpleasantly close to the "fuck you Jack, I'm alright" of the ARSE Brigade (Assault Rifle and Spam Eaters, mad survivalists). It's also the idea of someone who's obviously never had to grow any of their own food. If you had, you'd know that remarkably little work is needed to supply food for yourself, we really don't need the whole population to be working in the fields. Pol Pot tried that, it didn't work too well.

For a while there can certainly be a lot of monetary flow towards less consumption, as in when energy hogging tools wear out and are replaced (car dies, get a bike), or consumption is geared towards less consumption (as in home insulation). Then we have the consumption of education for the 98% of people who don't know that potatoes aren't fruits and have to be dug out of the ground.

This is not an easy one to sort out though, is it. A lot of what goes on in my domestic life are non-monetary exchanges...looking after a neighbors kid, sharing some veggies, doing minor construction projects together. So there is an economy, but it must go under the money radar.

As you surmised, my proposal is actually serious. Some kind of marketing like this could be very helpful. Perhaps as a way to give the former middle class something to do and feel proud of?

In order for a propaganda campaign to convince people that minimalism is sexy to be effective, you would first have to create an economic superstructure that would not fall down into ruins if your sales campaign worked. Private finance capitalism is not such a superstructure. On the other hand, if the political will existed to implement an economic system that was not based on the principle of wealth concentration, then it seems to me that your propaganda campaign has already been fought and won, rendering your proposed advertising program completely superfluous.

I would think that the two would have to go hand in hand...the change of the superstructure while making people feel good about the change of the superstructure.

You are imagining a much more orderly transition than I am. I suspect that the evolution of a new economic system will take place in the context of the almost complete destruction of the middle class. The main issue will public seizure of the power of making production infrastructure investments from the private financiers. I do not think the primary action will be about persuading the 'haves' about how good simplicity will make them feel, but rather it will be about the demand of the 'have nots' to be given the wherewithal to produce basic necessities for themselves.

You're missing the point of marketing. The purpose of marketing is to increase sales.

If you sell your TV and cancel your magazine subscriptions, the amount of marketing you are exposed to drops dramatically. This is the best way to begin to nurture ideas that are contrary to the marketers' purpose, which is to get you to buy more.

I consider marketing a set of tools to influence opinion and potentially behavior. In certain hands the tool is used to sell things, in other hands it is not.

If people are not watching the major media and their marketing, then they will look to their neighbors and peer groups.

I believe word of mouth marketing and copy-cat marketing are considered much more powerful than media marketing. Monkey see, monkey do. The media is useful for getting certain ideas and fads adopted by a few, but the majority then follow those who have adopted them and the media then acts as a major reinforcer.

I can understand the importance of the drive to survive and dominate, however I think we should look at 100% of the people out there.

I have worked in a wide range occupations, Casting plant pouring stainless Steel, Door to Door sales, Land Surveyer, Large system data base designer, and Systems programer.

In all those fields a large body of the people I have worked with over the years just want to go to work, do a good job, and go home.

Those are the folks that make up the bulk of the work force. If you have had any exposure to Myers-Briggs, it shows.
(based on Jungian types I believe, )

You see how certain types WILL have their opinions heard on every subject, and win win win. Others will will be in the background.

ENTJ vs ISTJ For example. The future community will have all types, not all will be competitive.

What different things have to be done, and who is going to fill those positions?

"We need to find ways to honor people who are exceptional contributors to community wealth,"

Like pay living wages to good teachers as opposed to gazillions to professional athletes, Hollywood entertainers and CEOs of failing financial institutions?

I wait with breath abated.

Anyone with half a brain is waiting with baited breath for the cataclysmic changes which are hurtling in our direction. Of course, the chances of a rational turning back from the principle of wealth concentration which is the defining characteristic of private finance capitalism is near zero. The question is what kind of social system(s) will arise out of the ruins of the current economic system when dedication to its fundamental principle has destroyed the middle class and thus its fundamental source of political stability? If the only conception we have of economic activity is that competitive accumulation of wealth is an eternal characteristic of human nature, then the only likely result will be war-lordism. I would not be particularly surprised by this result, but I cannot resist the temptation of trying to conceive if something better.

... our happiness ... is enhanced when we have more time and space for socializing, for nature, for learning, and for really living ...

i.e., when we are affluent; and affluence on a reliable government cheque is the best kind. That is why fossil carbon taxes are goo-ood.

--- G.R.L. Cowan, hydrogen-to-boron convert

Some measures of happiness don't include any ratings for 'durability'. Systems like tsunami warning networks don't do much to impact overall citizen happiness, but they are still important.

Likewise, asteroid location, tracking and diversion systems are important, though they only make dorks like myself happy.

While we don't all need a new phone every 3 months, we still need a high tech civilization to address issues like this.

All this intellectual masturbation about the human predicament won't change anything, although I admire Nate for the lifestyle changes he's made. I've done some of the same. 11 years ago I abandoned my financially lucrative career in Washington, DC and moved to rural Vermont to start a small farm. These days I grow most of my own food and even earn a couple thousand dollars a year selling vegetables, fruit and yogurt. I admit I'm not willing to go any further down the ladder. I still earn a decent middle-class income and enjoy my winter vacations to Belize and eat out occasionally.

I've tried to interest people in my immediate neighborhood in adopting a more rural lifestyle, with little success. One guy has put in a large garden and is heating with wood, but the rest are either too old or too apathetic to change their ways.

This research in human behavior modification is interesting, but we are on a trajectory for a very hard crash and dieoff and nothing can change that. Some say it's hard-wired in our genes.

All this intellectual masturbation about the human predicament won't change anything,

Quite the contrary. If there is any one group of people who have a chance of engendering changes that will help some people cope with what is to come, then it is those of us who are already aware. But clearly, even among us, there is little agreement on what the right path should be. All this "intellectual masturbation" helps each of us to clarify our own thoughts and beliefs, allows the stronger arguments to convince those that are open to being convinced and thereby increases the chance that we might be successful in our attempts to help or bring awareness to others.

We won't reach billions, we may only reach a few. But that might be all that's necessary to create a future worth living, at least for those who survive the coming maelstrom.


A big part of this (for me) is I read a lot here (and elsewhere) and new knowledge and other peoples creativity help connect the dots for me - what is possible- what is not - what is likely - what is not - the future after peak oil is an evolving tapestry that changes how it looks everyday - I dont expect it will be pretty and I dont expect any answers that will apply to everyone - but many things can be done for some, and some things can be done for most. Onward.

I have a feeling that many things will spring up due to necessary. I look at 3rd world places and the ingenuity in their machines and MFG. In San Paulo Bz you can get ANYTHING fixed. Little shops along the road.

Much of the community based local supplied alternative energy solutions are in 3rd world. Visit some of the alt Energy sites and people are coming in from all over the world with pictures of villiages powered by a microhydro or windturbine. Look at Cuba with those 55 chevys.

If the shipping and other costs kill Wal-mart, and the mega companies like dinosaurs, I expect to see light MFG starting up in this country like mushrooms. One making farm machinery, another making energy products, others food.
Today if you did something neat, you had a good chance of being run over by walmart, targets or whatever. They won't be there to compete on cost.

How about a lawnmower(ish) sized grain combine for small farms. Try to find one. Or a briggs & stratton sized diesel motor.

How about a lawnmower(ish) sized grain combine for small farms. Try to find one. Or a briggs & stratton sized diesel motor.

Like this L48V (4.2 HP)?

lots more models at

"What's wrong with Masturbation? It's sex with someone I love." -Woody Allen

If travel broadens the mind then lack of personal mobility could make us inward looking. Not just city to city travel but along dirt roads in (gasp) a private four wheel drive car. I'm not sure if it is a good thing to have all your relatives in the same State; that seems to favour inbreeding. Hence relocation and much of the social need for air travel.

I'd look at the problem of carrying capacity from another point of view. If there is nothing inherently evil with some use of private cars, eating steak, air conditioning or visiting the rellies interstate, then how many people can do that? Maybe only one or two billion people in a post FF world.

One thing that makes it a lot easier to live a low-consumption lifestyle is being a non-parent. Having kids always seems to put people on the consumption treadmill IMO.

Gotcha about kids. Everything in entertainment and mass media conspire in favour of conspicuous consumption.

Sometimes it really helps not to have much money. Easier to say no.

Children may be looked upon differently down the road. Particularly if, out of necessity, economic activity moves back into a localized farming way of life.

I live in a rural setting. My observation and experience is that farmers tend to have larger size families and for good reason. The more hands to do chores, the better.

The irony is that although PO may spell an end to the 6 Billion + world and lead to massive die-off, the adjustment for survivors may be the rediscovery of the extended and multiple child family.

Children are a renewable labour resource and may well be our only security in old age.

I think the nuclear family will prove to be a fairly short lived social experiment.

Yeah, maybe the Term, 'Nuclear Family' will be short-lived.

It may look more like a 'Compound Molecular Family', when people in the west rediscover the energy and lifestyle advantages of having an extended family close-at-hand, with shared access to a truck, to capital, to a small herd of this and that, to a decent metal shop or Radio/Electronics Repair Shop.

We won't be 'negotiating' away our Industrial-Suburban lifestyle.. we might not be able to even sell it off outright any more.. just leave it to rust in the yard, and pull useful parts off of it if we find any..

I'm going to go out on a limb and disagree with this. I have two kids and they're cool with the changes we've made. I think the problem with kids is that most of them are bombarded by the same level of advertising that adults are, with fewer skills for ignoring it all. And don't forget, per person, kids consume a lot less than adults, if for no other reason than they're smaller.

Frankly, I think watching TV is what puts people on the consumption treadmill regardless of whether they are kids or adults. The first thing I'd advise anyone for who wants to live a happier life with less crap is to turn off the TV. If you get rid of that leg of the Iron Triangle, you aren't constantly being told to buy more junk.

Agreed. Turn off the television and you limit access to entertainment and mass media, i.e. a primary source of advertising.

A game of cards is an alternative and happier way to relax. The 'idiot box' is not called the 'idiot box' fer nuffin.

Observation as a father: kids spend more time on computers and electronic gadetry than did our generation.

"turn off the TV."

Couldn't agree more. Whether directly telling you what to buy, or bombarding you with endless hints via the the furnishings of the sitcom neighborhood, house or apt, it's endless. I went to a neighbors a while back to watch the History Channel's show on Peak oil, and was just floored at the number of commercials. Why do people watch this thing? We raised a family, but never have had a tv.

Drama as a whole, is quite insidious in its reinforcement of the message that success = more.

In Pride and Prejudice, the nice but poor girl ends up marrying the handsome rich guy. Fast forward 200 years to Pretty Woman, in which the nice but poor girl ends up with the handsome rich guy.

The difference with modern Hollywood and TV is that they are much more effective in selling this fantasy to us. But for 99% of people watching they are left hoping to achieve a fantasy that they never can.

Still have my TV, but no cable and no broadcast stations. Everything I watch is off DVD or off the Internet. No commercials. TV is also hooked up to a server with some 350 GB of video.

Kill your television. Take control of your mind.

SubKommander Dred

'Emancipate yourself from Mental Slavery,
None but you can free your mind.' Bob Marley

BUT.. I think TV can be a terrific tool. We have some very busy access stations up here in Maine now, and I think this form of literacy can have some critical uses for us.. Apart from Bob Cousins' thought about Dramatics, for example, is my belief that Movies can be a great way to teach History, and to express our Imaginative ideas. As with politics, it's been the requirement of big money ownership that has created the central messages we currently know from broadcast.

For the time being anyway, these tools are in our hands, as are the tools of Printing, Radio, and Music.. both creation and distribution..

Blessed are the Artists, who can show us what we've overlooked.

Haven't had one for 20 + years. Of course I came from a culture that the only thing less cool than TV was going to Las Vegas.
Have I missed anything?

Shame to think that nothing good came out of my television experience. I guess I can say goodbye to Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, George Carlin, Lewis Black, Bill Hicks, V for Vendetta, Life at the End of Empire, End of Suburbia, Fight Club, as there's nothing worth remembering or learning there. [/sarcanol]

Having kids can put you on the consumption treadmill if you, as a parent, succumb to the idea that your child must have the same opportunities and 'things' that other children have. TV or no TV, kids always want what their friends have but ultimately someone has to buy it for them. I say 'no' to my daughter all the time; unfortunately, my ex-husband does not.

I think there is a point in each man's life when the children are already raised and you have retired from 'working for the man'.

It is at this point that martial strife seems most likely to raise its head. Some call it a mid-life crisis but I think its more than that.

I think its a man's desire to once in his life have the opportunity to live and do 'exactly' he wishes to without anyone else making decisions for him.

I know I reached this stage sometime ago and since then have been living mostly a life by myself. My wife lives with my son and my daughter is unreachable. No grandchildren to hover over and my wife prefers to not live with me on the farm.

Each day I have the freedom to do exactly as I please. Its a very freeing and quality livestyle, at least thats my view on it.

So I might lay in bed until 9 AM or get up at 5 AM. I might spend the day just doing nothing or be very busy..its doing what ever the hell I wish to do.

What do I wish to do as my main purpose in life?
Survive and continue to philosophize on the purpose of life and enjoy it as much as I possibly can.

I tore the TV out years ago. I read a lot more and have read voraciously all my life. I have many many interests and hobbies. Blacksmithing,banjo picking,leathercraft,gardening,cabinetry,and of late making beehives and getting a start on beekeeping...and lastly amateur radio , which I have been into all of my life.

Lately I spend more time with guys down at the towns tobacco shop. Comparing knives,sharpening knives,eating popcorn, telling stories, drinking RC and Sundrop,and in general just bullshitting the time away.

I love my life now more than ever now that all those responsiblities are gone for good. I do provide some of my pension to my wife and she also has her social security income(based soley on my years of work since she never did work enough to earn enough credits).

Do I feel selfish? No. Do I feel ashamed? No. Do I require female companionship? No.

I can spend the time as I wish.

I think like Thoreau said: "most men lead lives of quiet desperation" I decided not to any more.

Now I spend a lot of time refining my lifestyle to become more and more able to survive the future. I live very simply.

Tomorrow I pick up another wood burning stove. That will make three. I intend to quit heating with FF next month for good. My electric bill last month was about $55.00

airdale-its now my hell with the rest,I deserved it and I am taking piss on what society sez

The tendency for materialist expenditure to go way up with kids is largely because of poor education systems. People want to live where the schools are good, because most schools in the US stink. The places where the schools are good are where the wealthy people live, for all the reasons one can imagine.

The wealthy people want to live where the wealthy people live, and take a number of measures to keep out the riffraff. Primarily this tends to be zoning restrictions, requiring one to buy a big lot of land and a big house, leading to lots of property taxes, which is of course the revenue for the good schools. These low-density suburbs tend to be far from places of employment, because a) they are low-density, which means everything is inherently far from everything else, and b) they are chosen for their school systems and general "child-friendly" neighborhoods, not for their proximity to employment. So now we've got the big house and long commute and driving to the supermarket and two or three cars. Then, if you want to socialize with the neighbors, you will feel pressure to "keep up" on a spending basis, because people who have successfully clawed their way into the good neighborhood with the good schools, and the big house full of lots of stuff and the three late-model cars, and the good job to pay for it all, don't want any association with everything they are trying to avoid. I know people who have lived in Greenwich CT for decades, with incomes in excess of $1m per annum, who now feel "poor" in comparison to their neighbors.

It is difficult for most people to escape this inexorable algebra. It certainly can be done, but most people don't have the vision or wherewithal for that, or even the interest.

Nate, thanks for bringing this up.

All the references you listed are pointing to what I assert is a fundamental confusion people make. People mistake circumstances (what is reality and includes things) with the meaning or interpretation of the circumstances (which is subjective). In fact, we humans tend to make our happiness dependent on circumstances. If I get that car, then I will be happy. If I get that new job, then I will be happy. If I marry that person, then I will be happy. If I divorce that person, then I will be happy. I must have married the wrong person. Maybe if I marry that person, I will be happy. And on we go spinning in the hamster wheel.

By connecting happiness with circumstances, we abdicate responsibility for how we're feeling, and we'll argue to whomever says otherwise that "I can't possibly be happy without x." Then when we get x, we're happy for a little while until we argue that we now need y.

The interpretation we invent is alway entirely up to the person doing the perceiving. It may not always feel like it is, especially when we're feeling overwhelmed or hungry, but humans through their capacity to use representative language are in charge of their interpretations. It just takes the willingness to watch how one's mind is working and practicing guiding it down different paths.

Victor Frankl started a whole school of thought around the capacity for humans to separate their experience of reality from reality itself ( based on his experiences in the concentration camps. Richard K mentioned that Alexandr Solshenitsyn discovered the same thing while in the gulag.

This confusion between what we perceive to be reality and reality itself is why we can enjoy books and movies and other artificial realities. In the final analysis, our brain can't tell any difference between 'reality' and whatever is getting through our senses at the moment.

In some schools of thought, since I'm in charge of my interpretations and since interpretations are invented by brains quite separate from reality (i.e. the concept I have for 'chair' is not the 'chair' itself), it's possible to invent infinite interpretations. Pick the ones that get you the result you want.

Of course many people reject this sort of relativism, and they tend to be quite obstinate about the existence of 'absolute truth' and very often claim to be the ones who are custodians of 'the truth.' I like to avoid these people because they often are up to no good, in my view.

A current, widespread interpretation is that more things equals more happiness. This is easily demonstrated to be false, but as shaman pointed out, a small group of people can start providing an alternative point of view. Maybe someday it will be common knowledge that circumstances do not equal happiness. That indeed would be a transformation on a global scale, and there are many, many people working toward that goal.

It is not necessary to "turn off the TV" -- just start practicing noticing the interpretations that one is making, remind yourself that they are all made up (the result of humans using representative language), invent another interpretation (all interpretations are valid since they are all made up) and go live a happy life.

André Angelantoni
Inspiring Green Leadership
Peak Oil, Climate Change and Business, Free Executive Briefing


The idea of a simpler, and lower carbon-footprint, lifestyle is excellent, but the reality is often vastly different from what people anticipate. See "Back from the Land" by Eleanor Agnew regarding the people who participated in, then abandoned, the back-to-land movement of the 60's and 70's. Obviously, a simpler lifestyle imposed by a lack of energy isn't something people can decide to leave, but the same forces that made it difficult to bear in the 70's may make it difficult to bear today. We also need to consider how much our desire for over-accumulation is genetically driven rather than just a result of massive ad campaigns. I would think that the drive to accumulate more than necessary (since the actual necessary amount is an unknown until after the fact conferred a substantial survival advantage and therefore is now part of our genetic make-up and has a marked influence on our current overconsumptive practices.


We have self reinforcing factors that enable overaccumulation.
We have incessant messages asking us to overconsume, but we also have the McMansion infrastucture that lets us accumulate the stuff.
While the inhabitants of New York,Tokyo, or Mumbai may have a big bank account relative to their peers in the rest of their countries, it is almost certain that they have less "stuff" because they have only 800-1500 sq ft, instead of 3000 or more for McMansion dwellers.

Availability is another key, Most folks in America can hop into a car and be in a big box store within 20 minutes, where products from distant lands are available.
One way to wean away from TV is to watch only foreign satellite channels, that way you will be completely unaware of the new and improved stuff they have now at the stores, and still entertain oneself or fill time.

Most readers here are probably already on their way to lower consumption, but for the rest of the folks, it is impossible, Once a piece of land in an urban/suburban area becomes private property, it is already on its way to becoming some sort of retail establishment in order for the owner to maximize his investment. - Accumulate land, and refuse to consider a return for it.
Another factor is that almost all investment is other people's money. i.e. even the centi millionaires do not onw anything 100%, they own 1% of a 100 properties. This leads to misallocation such as having an aisle dedicated entirely to toothpaste in a new drug store I visited. Almost 20 feet, 3-4 shelves full of various brands and types of toothpaste. If this property were really owned by a single owner, there may have been a chance that he would have weighed the cost benefit. This leads to a super big box, with attendent parking spaces, turning lanes, storm drains etc etc.

As I did above, and below, I'd explain the problem faced by back to the land people in the 60s and 70s in terms of relative deprivation. They "unilaterially disarmed" in a society that was moving full speed ahead in a different direction. They experienced not simplicity ( a neutral or positive thing), but relative deprivation (almost always bad.) Relative deprivation makes simple living very painful. Relative deprivation is what makes simplicity feel like poverty.

Only wide spread social solidarity (or extreme and rare independence of mind) can make simple living a positive experience.

Simplicity by choice, as a matter of individual virtue, will always remain rare and will, for average people, feel like poverty. We can't get to a lower level of consumption, a way of life that will save the Planet, unless we make a commitment to do so in a way that increases burden sharing, and decreases opportunity for disproportionate wealth accumulation and so on.

Before I disarm I want to know if other people are going to disarm. Before I sacrifice I want to know if the sacrifice will be shared. I happen to believe that if it is truly shared it won't feel like sacrifice at all. But I know that if it is not shared, I will feel like I've been played for a fool, and I can assure you that many people are as suspicious as I am, because here in the U.S., for a long time, the wealthier class(es) HAVE played the common folk for fools.

I can't think of a nation on Earth that is less suited to come to a collective decision on reducing its ecological footprint than is the U.S. We have no sense of collective self hood, no ethic of community. We can't even maintain a modestly progressive tax system.

I honestly don't know if anything short of external shock or physical resource limits would be capable of inducing the U.S. to take the collective measures needed to move forward on climate change, and needed to assure people that their individual sacrifice will not be taken advantage of by others, leaving them in state of relative poverty, without the social solidarity that could be created if the movement toward simplicity and ecological balance was a collective and communal decision.

sadly, you are correct - and what makes issues like climate change and peak oil all the tougher, is that the disarmament has to cross borders, and oceans.

I don't see why reducing your carbon emissions and fossil fuel consumption by 50-75% is any "sacrifice".

I put on jumpers and have warm drinks in the winter, I put on loose shirts and shorts and have a cool drink and use a fan in summer. I've turned the hot water heater down to a temperature where we can just bear the hot water straight from the tap, and take four minute showers daily. I turn off lights and appliances when not using them. I eat meat and fish once a week each, and cook meals from raw ingredients rather than packaged stuff. I take the train or bus instead of driving, and walk anything under 5km. My spouse drives to work but otherwise not.

By these measures we have reduced our household electricity and gas and petrol usage to about 1/4 that of the average Aussie household. Our carbon emissions are overall about 25% average. In the meantime we have good food and health, and low utilities bills. We have less stress when getting to work, being able to read or chat while travelling, and need to work less hours to pay for transport.

I don't see how any of these are a "sacrifice." On the contrary, they've improved our lives.

Oh I think I've already harvested the low hanging fruit. I bike to work. My wife and I own one car, and we use it as little as possible. We live in a smallish by American standards house. We use Pacific Northwest hydroelectric power (no particular virtue in that - that's just where it comes from here.) We live near and use electric rail transportation (Portland MAX) and bus. We use efficient electrical devices... lights and the like.

I'm down to a level of carbon emissions and resource uses that requires less than 2 planets if everybody lived as we do.... which is still about twice where we need to be.

The next steps do require sacrifice that will hurt my children.

I could refuse to fly in airplanes, declining job opportunities associated with being available for travel, and halting my career.

I could refuse to fly in airplanes and decrease the frequency with which my children see their grandparents from twice a year to maybe once every two years.

We could get rid of the car and sacrifice the higher quality public school that we drive to for the local public school that, frankly, is not as good.

We could buy more expensive cleaner forms of energy (there is a wind energy program that you can sign up for and pay more for your electricity to support), "doing our part", but also effectively allowing others to free ride on our added expense.

The easy stuff has mostly been done.... the next steps have consequences. Even if I am willing to take those steps (not sure that I am) I doubt that most people will be, absent some assurance that their sacrifice will not be used to benefit someone else's children, or maintain some other wealthier person's lifestyle.

Many steps save the individual money, and the planet carbon emissions, with no downside.

But some steps, quite essential for human survival, save the individual money and the planet carbon emissions while having negative implications for the quality of life. Those burdens can be tolerable if they are shared... they become intolerable if they are not shared.

Excellent start. But you can do more without great agony.

In any weather above freezing, turn off the heater, put on jumpers and have hot drinks. In any weather below 90F, put on light clothes and have cool drinks. Turn off your 2,500W airconditioning and put on your 50W fan.

Change your meat consumption to about 1lb a month each, ensuring it's mostly red meat for children and menstruating women. Have lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and other raw products to make your dinners with, rather than tv dinners.

Take the train to those grandparents, or have them take the train to you. Better yet, one or both lots of you should move closer, which would reduce emissions and improve everyone's daily life by seeing their family more.

Speaking to people generally, not to this guy - yes, I know there are very good reasons your personally can't change, why it's particularly difficult for you. There were also very good reasons Thomas Jefferson, the man who wrote, "all men are created equal", couldn't free his slaves. There are also very good reasons people steal, drive drunk, embezzle from their workplace, smoke a pack of cigarettes a day, don't feed their children properly, don't finish high school, and so on.

That's fair enough. But what's remarkable to me is that the people who are quickest to make excuses for themselves are also the quickest to judge others. "I cannot possibly take the train, that would be inconvenient - but you, if you can't get by on a minimum wage job, that's your fault!" So when you're making excuses for yourself, be ready to accept everyone else's excuses. It's only fair.

Everyone's misdeeds are quite forgiveable - to themselves. People seem less forgiving of others' misdeeds.

Sure, other people are doing wrong, so why should I change? Joe, make sure you give that boy twenty good ones, he's been very insolent lately. What? Look, I'll free them when everyone else has. Otherwise it would be inconvenient for me.

Kiashu, I'd rather discuss principles than specifics but first...

I already heat lightly and have no air conditioning, eat no red meat, buy food organic and local to the extent possible.

The trade off of twice a year by airplane versus every two years by train to visit the grandparents is exactly what I was descrbing. Train takes a lot more time (and money)... it can be done less often.

... and of course the professional cost of avoiding air travel is potentially significant.


My point is precisely that this is not about me... this is about the choices that each individual is faced with.

At first it is easy to save the planet and improve your life, as Nate and his coauthor propose. But as you progress along the spectrum you begin to place yourself at odds with your society, and you begin to lose out on experiences and opportunities that other people have access to.

It is commendable if you choose to do those things, but it is also more than understandable if people say "I would do that... but only if we as a society agree to do that together.... I'm not going to be the only person reducing air travel by 50% as a donation to my planet... while other people are having professional success and growth based on their unfettered use of airplanes."

The hard choices are the choices that need to be made collectively. They involve taxation of carbon, taxation of travel, agricultural policy and social policy that reduces free riding to a level where people do not feel a disincentive to make an effort.

I already do a great deal, but I, like most people, am not a saint, and will only go so far if the costs mount while other people free ride on my good deeds.

I endorse the idea that INDIVIDUALS doing the right thing for the planet is compatible with happiness at the level of first steps. More drastic measures are also compatible with happiness, but they begin to require COMMUNITY decision making or else the thesis advanced by Nate falls apart.

It's not about inconvenience. It's about justice.

A similar article with comments in Grist and now on Energy bulletin reads .....

"The key to our survival as a civil species during an era of profound
natural upheaval lies in an enhanced sense of community. If we
maintain the fiction that we can thrive as isolated individuals, we
will find ourselves at the same emotional dead end as the current
crop of survivalists: an existence marked by defensiveness, mistrust,
suspicion, and

we need to elevate the ethic of cooperation over the deeply
ingrained reflex of competition. We need to elevate our biological
similarities over our geographical differences. We need, in the face
of this oncoming onslaught, to reorganize our social structures to
reflect our most humane collective aspirations.

There is no body of expertise -- no authoritative answers -- for this
one. We are crossing a threshold into uncharted territory. And since
there is no precedent to guide us, we are left with only our own
hearts to consult, whatever courage we can muster, our instinctive
dedication to a human future -- and the intellectual integrity to
look reality in the eye. "

Ross Gelbspan

I like your perspective that we are working our way into a future, rather than a past. I just wish I felt better about developing "a sense of community." Most groups of people - communities - make me feel less rather than more hopeful. Going to meetings kills hope entirely! I'm not that impressed with my fellow humans.

Not the best attitude to have when the future envisaged is one of collectives!

Nate -

on the faint offchance that a fine old line escaped your notice because you arrived late or haven't happened across it,

in the UK in the late '60s one key concept that helped overturn the clout of the "utilitarians" (later the Chicago School) was :


To ease its apprehension by a philosopher friend I once extended it to :

The means [applied] are the end [achieved].

Hope this might be of some help.



That Ross Gelbspan article deserves to be widely read.

The challenge of developing a shared sense of community is that of finding an agreed upon closely shared sense of reality with other people.

Living in one small place encourages that... being able to drive around a large geographic area discourages that.

Reading a few common texts encourages that... have access to all the books in the world discourages that.

Sharing a simple material culture encourages that... have access to a wide variety of material objects discourages that.

I suspect that only smaller geographically localized communities and more defined and limited life choice sets can induce the kind of shared experiences that lead people to feel community and be willing to act in communal ways. (It's an hypothesis at least.)

A first reply on a site that has opened my eyes.

Read the simple truth of Maslow.

I believe in Biology. The 5% rule of basic Biology. 95% of the people in this country have no idea what will be hitting them in the face, all too soon. In almost every instance, the 5% of the people who survive, will be the natural selection that rules our Biology, and always has.

"In almost every instance, the 5% of the people who survive, will be the natural selection that rules our Biology, and always has." I agree.

BTW, Do you actually kayak? I'm a member of

Who among the readers of this site have ever been a member of the working poor in America. You say having more doesn't increase happiness but not being able to skip work when sick does increase unhappiness. Not being able to afford a reliable car to get you to that low paying job beyond the reach of public transportation does increase unhappiness. It is a fact of economic life in America that if you don't have a reliable car then 6 out 7 job opprotunities are not available. Not being able to afford the effective treatment of chronic diseases like asthma increases unhappiness. Knowing that the claim that economic growth will improve the lot of the working poor is pure bullshit increases unhappiness. There is a certain level below which not having enough gaurantees unhappiness no matter the how good your relationships with everybody else in your impoverished community is. Knowing my next door neighbor is just as cold and hungry as I am doesn't make either of us happier.
Having said the above I do agree that too many people try to fill that hole in their soul with all manner of spending. We have a political party whose only platform is eliminating taxes on the rich so they can buy things from foreign countries in the vain attempt to fill the hole in their souls. The propaganda of Madison Ave and Hollywood is what makes too many Americans unhappy. They don't celebrate the lives of those who found happiness by giving away the wealth they inherited to strangers. Madison Ave doesn't want us to know about the few who have done that instead of buying the goods and services they advertise. These people have been vilified as communists or just plain lunatics. That is what happened to Henry Ford II when he set up the Ford Foundation and challenged other members of the Country Club set to do likewise.


A friend of mine once framed the issue of "energy use" vs "energy waste" perfectly. He said a friend of his had accused him of wasting energy..."you use air conditioning for example", to which my friend replied "hey, it's not being wasted when it's blowing on me!"

What my friend was pointing out was that there is energy consumption that brings a relative degree of comfort to an otherwise very uncomfortable situation. Sometimes this can even mean the difference between life and death. In the early 1980's there was an article that pointed (at that time) that more people were dying in the U.S. due to heat than to AIDS. In Chicago that summer over 200 people had died from heat. They lived in poor nieghborhoods, where they were afraid to open doors or windors for cooling. The idea of leaving a window open overnight is unthinkable in these neighborhoods.

Of course, we all know that per capita use of oil has gone nowhere but up over the last several decades right? Well, not according to the EIA:

But how is that possible? People were driving throughout this period, in fact, driving more miiles than ever. People were buying higer performance cars in the 1990's than ever. How could per capita oil consumption be dropping?

Of course, the reduction was caused by more advanced technology. An automobile in the late 1960's or early 1970's was a primitive device. There were no computers to control the fuel delivery. The cars were heavy, the engines were good old fashioned iron.

By the early 1980's, the efficiency level had climbed hugely. The control of fuel delivery, enhanced aerodynamics, and drivetrain efficiency reduced pollution and stretched fuel mileage.

But if the reduction in energy use was "transparent", that is to say, that no sacrifice has to made on the part of the consumer to achieve it, then it is not minded. And if the sacrifice creates more, not less, convenience and comfort, then it is embraced with those favorite words of the advertisers, "new and improved."

Back to the air conditioning. I used my air conditioner last summer about 4 or 5 days total. It was a sacrifice, and an uncomfortable one. I did this not because I was a "saint" of the greenhouse gas cause, or because I am doomer, but to save money. A friend of mine never turned his off. His house was built in 1982, when the assumption was that energy was only going to get more and more expensive throughout the 1980's and '90's, so it is well insulated. He suffered no discomfort, but due to the efficiency of his house, suffered only marginal financial discomfort. "Transparent" effeciency.

We really need to work to this issue of "waste" vs. use. The amount of energy that leaks out of the homes, vehicles, industries, schools and colleges, on and on, without bringing anything (comfort, security, status, wealth, mobility) can be called waste. It is huge.

Energy used that brings one of the above (comfort, security, status, wealth) to people can be called "use". Seperate those two.

Energy "use" will be hard to reduce. Sorry, but that's just the way humans are. They will not easily give up comfort, security, status, wealth or mobility, energy use or greenhouse gas be damned.

But they will give up "waste" because by doing so they can actually enhance their comfort, security, wealth, status, etc. I recently heard an interview with a guy who was installing PV to his home, even though it cost more upfront than not having it. What was he enhancing? "It's like a hedge fund on my roof" he said. If energy costs go up, he is hedging against it, plus getting the status of being "green" and an ealy adopter of technology.

I will close by offering an example I have used before. A female friend owns a Toyota Camry hybrid. I talk to her frequently. She is in the financial community, and makes good money. Did she need to save the money? No, she said, I have done the analysis, I am not saving much if any any after you factor the cost of the car, and besides, I make enough to afford gasoline, even if it were to cost twice as much as now.
So your doing it for the greenhouse gas, I asked? No, she said, I will admit, I really don't understand that issue and am still not completely convinced. Then why did you buy it, I asked?
For the range. The car gets over 500 mile range on a tank. The thing she loves about the car is that it reduces the amount of times she has to be at the gas pump per month, standing in the cold or the blazing heat, pumping gas.

"Transparent efficiency". She gets more convenience, more comfort, also the status of being "green" (not that this is high on her agenda), and the security that if gasoline goes up in price, she already has the "hedge" effect, and will be even more able to weather it than most.

One caveat: "Transparent efficiency" is a CHOICE. It requires an educated consumer, and one who has the disposable income to make a choice between complex options.

This is why I have such a strong difference of opinion with so many here on occasion. There seems to be a myth that if you can somehow make people poor, you will increase their efficiency. This is in no way true. I have known people all my life who live in leaky houses, with heat and airconditioning leaking away bringing comfort to one, because they could not afford to improve their housing situation. I have seen the poor drive used, inefficient, overwieght cars, because they could not afford better, and let the oil companies subsidize their ineffiecient car by way of energy. High priced gasoline costs less than modern efficient transportation to those who cannot get credit or cannot raise even the lump sum required to get into better more efficient cars. Notice, they DO NOT quite driving, as that would be giving up "use" (comfort, security, status, wealth, mobility), but accept "waste" because they must.

The central points: We could reduce energy consumption as we have done in the past by reducing "waste" without loud complaint by the consumer. Trying to force them to give up "use" is very hard, and leads to extreme opposition, sometimes even dangerous opposition.

And, we will not improve efficiency by trying to make people poorer. We will enhance suffering. That is not the humane way to reduce energy consumption. Reduce the waste first, and then see where we stand.

Thank you
Roger Conner Jr.

I think 'Transparent Efficiency' makes sense to me, as does the point about not being necessarily more efficient because you are poorer. Clearly, we have all sorts of penalties that hit when one's ability to install the better equipment, or maintain a home's systems to be operating efficiently, etc is weakened..

But how would one approach the 'Economic Indicator' side of this, since every bit of overspending just adds up to look like a healthy economy to the bean-counters, and hence 'the system'? 'So what if it's the poorer citizens who are holding a bunch of this up?' And I ask this Structurally, not to incite the morality that the question carries.

I guess I usually just get back to the solution of teaching people during their schoolyears about how to make wise financial decisions and understand what to look for as their own individual 'Economic Indices'

There is also an implication in your post that by suggesting people simplify, minimize or reduce in any number of ways, that they are just trying to 'be poor'.. While some have advocated that, I'd say this is a constant misapprehension, and is the root of the 'Economizing is bad for the Economy' attitude. Such that consumers are thoroughly marketed-to with the ideology that being anything but expansive in your consumption is a form of failure, retreat or self-exile from the society. I think this is a set of definitions put upon us that keeps people buying so that they don't have to fear ostracism or worse, self-imposed isolation from our people.

Bob Fiske

EDITED for grammar..

Bob, you said,
"There is also an implication in your post that by suggesting people simplify, minimize or reduce in any number of ways, that they are just trying to 'be poor'..

Let me say that if I implied that in any way it was accidental. The rest of your paragraph is very well taken. I have seen no better examination of this issue of consumption as social/cultural acceptance than the book and PBS series "Status Anxiety". The point of the series was that by constantly using the media to inforce stereotypes of "consumption equals acceptence" consumption of everything is driven upward even though it provides no demonstrable improvement in lifestyle, except hopefully gaining "status".

I am a fan of the "minimalist" aesthetic, and love the idea of less is more!
I keep trying to find some way to blend that into a very high style low consumption life, somewhat like the Japanese aesthetic (old world, not modern)....shades of Frank Lloyd Wright "craftsman" school or Gropius, where you use even the roof space of the house....)
Another one we can play on is the "reverse snob appeal", remember the 1960's when rich girls bought VW Beetles just one up the rich, but in the opposite direction....let's look for that kind of advertising...:-)


Efficiency alone won't solve the problem. This is known as the "rebound effect", efficiency leads to higher consumption.

Efficiency is a necessary condition to solve the problem, but it is not enough. We must aim to reductions in absolute terms of energy consumption.

You also mistake "being poor" with "needing less material stuff". Your reference to lower oil consumption per capita in the US is laughable... 25 bbl per person!!! This is still too much.

Peaknik said
"Your reference to lower oil consumption per capita in the US is laughable... 25 bbl per person!!! This is still too much."

Of course it is too much! How much of that 25 bbl per person would you guesss is wasted? It is assumed we use so much oil because we are technically modern. I assume we use so much oil because we are technically primitive.

On the "rebound effect", that can be a real problem, and we saw it in the 1980's. When consumption drops, the price drops, given equal production, so people get wasteful again, requiring more, more, more in production...

I do not like too much federal intervention, but in this one case, I do think we need at least a "floor price". This would be a tax that would keep oil at a minimum price, to avoid price collapses leading to waste. My guess is that if you set a floor of $75 dollars per barrel after tax, it would not harm the nation, and would keep the price at least high enough to make efficiency pay. If we started wasting more oil, move the floor up to $85 per barrel, etc. Both of these prices are below the current oil price, so the extra "floor tax" would not even kick in yet, but if the price started to fall....


I think you're on the right track. It is far better to use systems that inherently use few resources, rather than trying to "economize" with systems that are inherently resource-pigs. Turning the thermostat from 71F to 67F, in a large, centrally-heated, poorly insulated house, hardly reduces exorbitant consumption at all but does add to discomfort. However, an 800sf superinsulated house, with room-by-room temperature adjustment (common in Europe) can be kept at a comfy 71F all winter long while using hardly any fuel.

Those Upper East Side Manhattanites that Nate likes to disparage commute all of two miles to work on the train, and don't own a car. The monthly subway pass costs $76. This is not because they're trying to be great economizers, but because they just happen to use a system which is inherently efficient.

Other inconvenient thruts are here:

There are great forces that oppose to the development of clean technologies, that will be damage oil companies. They prefer war to mantain their power.

Nate, et al.,

As an evolutionary psychologist, here is what I see as the most fundamental problem posed by evolutionary biology for solving problems of human ecological overshoot.

Adaptations (including psychological ones) are all solutions to problems of inclusive fitness in ancestral environments. (Evolution cannot look forward, it cannot anticipate what it has never encountered.)

Here's the sobering rub: inclusive fitness is always relative to others; it is not absolute.

That is, nature doesn't say, "Have 2 kids (or help 4 full sibs), and then you can stop. Good job! You did your genetic duty, you may pass along now..."

Instead, nature says: "Out-reproduce your competitors. Your competitors are all of the genes in your species' gene pool that you do not share. If the average inclusive fitness score is 3, then you go for 4... "

In other words, our psychological adaptations are designed to not just "keep up with the Joneses" but to "do better than the Joneses." This is in whatever terms that increase inclusive fitness -- number of children, and things that have led to them such as status, wives (for men), resource acquisition and control, etc.

An unfortunately corollary of this that one can also increase one's inclusive fitness by reducing the inclusive fitness of others. That potentially makes murder, genocide, warfare, and other nasty stuff potential genetic pay offs.

So, what are we up against to avoid ecological overshoot? Nothing less tenacious than human nature. Hopeless? Not sure yet.

If we are to have a chance to be "smarter than yeast" (thanks again to Bob Shaw for the catchy phrase), we have to "fool Mother Nature." How? By fully understanding psychological adaptations so that we can "fool" them.

In fact, it happens all the time today.

We can enjoy films, TV and photos because they were not part of our ancestral environment. (Most men are sufficient fooled by pornography that they can get sexually aroused by ink on paper). When we watch a TV sitcom such as "Friends" we are fooled into thinking the characters really are our friends. We may say hello if we see Jennifer Aniston on the street (she was in our living room, after all). To her, of course, we are an intruding stranger who she has never met. We cry and laugh at movies, despite the fact that we know what we are watching is just light projected through film, the actors are reading from a script, and there is a sound guy holding a boom mic just out of eye sight.

Can we fool our psychological adaptations to make us want to live sustainably on a finite planet? Probably. We need to see the planet as our home, other people as our kin, and the well-being of our children as directly tied to our level of present consumption. Women need to be prepped to find "ecological men" of limited resource consumption really, really sexy (as an earlier poster correctly suggested). (Unfortunately, sexual selection has designed women to go for high consumption / high resource control men; and for men to do their damn best to give them what they want, or face reproductive oblivion.)

Powerful media / advertising messages probably could fool our psychological adaptations -- to make us smarter than yeast.

Whether those who are currently powerful will expend the resources to accomplish this, and whether we will have enough time to do so, is the question.

I agree with comments here that mention that voluntary reduction of consumptionwould only be sustainable if a lot of people do the same at the same time. The present mode of consumption is towards more and more. And that requires more energy in the physical world.

There are no such constraints in the virtual world. The escape into the virtual world, the introdus, as Greg Egan calls it, is the only course that is consistent with the genetic imperative and a finite world. This course is sustainable provided we can support that many "pods" holding humans.

Think about it.

Everyone can live in castles, move around entire worlds, mate with a number of impossibly perfect partners for the same energy cost that it takes to give you an experience of a life that sucks. The senses that want you to seek beautiful partners and riches are presently being fooled by TV. In a virtual world, there is no way for them to know the difference. The poorer you are, the greater incentive to move into the virtual world. Any number of open source digital artifacts can be enjoyed by those who would have no way of affording their real-life equivalents. Virtual Holiday, Virtual haute-couture, Virtual steak etc. Infact, the only people living in the real world would be those who will be occasionally called out to do hardware repairs and upgradation. Come to think of it, even those work depends on the real world can work via robotic tele-presence.

Humanity can drastically shrink its footprint as one would no longer lug around ourselves. A pod with sensory coverage, haptic body suits and nutrition would seemingly be very expensive, but when done in mass, it would avoid all future energy expenses except for the food. An algae based protein food could be pumped into the real body, while the mind thinks it is eating delicious food everyday.

That's pretty over the top, but it does hold some fascinating ideas....of course, many of them have already been discussed in science fiction and "future" oriented non fiction.

Think of "Ferenheit 451", the great movie version by Truffout (spelling?). The idea there was that people could satisfied in thier homes by a giant interactive TV, in which the persons would "role play" in complex soap operas. This begins to ask the question, "what is that we really want, or what role do we really want to play..." What is the "role" of humans on Earth?

Toffler in "The Third Wave" claimed that the quest for material goods was more about a quest for experiences, and called "the experience industry" the growth industry of the future. Of course, there has always been "experience industries", prostitution is often consdered the oldest! Disney has made fortunes on the experience industry....almost all tourism is based on it.

So the core of the idea would be to create and satisfy human need for experience without consuming too much in material goods.

Interesting to think about....however, some of us old geezers are still going to want "reality" with all it's failings, so this is really for the kids to work out...:-)

"The inconvenient truth is that to ensure quality of life for future generations, the world's wealthiest societies cannot continue our current lifestyles and patterns of economic growth."

It might well be that in the future, things will be done differently, than they are right now, but this does not mean that economic growth has to end, or that everyone in the world can't enjoy a higher standard of living that advanced societies enjoy now. It us all dependent ib the choices we make.

So you are saying ....

that everyone in the world CAN "enjoy a higher standard of living that advanced societies enjoy now."

I say not without an energy fairy

That's a circular argument.

"A high standard of living means high energy use, therefore a high standard of living requires high energy use."

You have to define what you mean by "high standard of living." This does not necessarily mean having lots of manufactured stuff around you while burning a gigawatt of lights and then zapping off in your hydrogen-powered flying car.

If you do a bit of research about countries' GNPs per capita and people's reported happiness levels, you'll find that there's not a linear relationship with energy use. Country A may use twice as much energy per person as Country B, but that does not mean that A's people are twice as wealthy or twice as happy as B's.

What we find instead is that wealth and happiness rise with energy use but then flatten out. The graph's a shoulder-shape. Considering electricity, going from 0 to about 2,000kWh of electricity per person produces very great increases in wealth and happiness, but from there on up there's not much effect, and it's quite possible for a 16,000kWh per capita society to be poorer and more miserable than a 4,000kWh one.

Now, you may say that an energy fairy is needed to get the 2,000kWh per person, but I don't think so. Maybe for 10,000 or 20,000kWh, sure. But not for 2,000kWh.

Similar analyses have been made for other kinds of energy use. They're easy to find online.

I say not without an energy fairy

I believe that the 72 TW of wind-power potential (worldwide) and the far greater potential for direct solar collection can stand in for your fairy.