Limits to Growth: A View from Planet Talos

This guest post first ran over 2 years ago, in November 2006. How time flies...It's intent is not prescriptive but as a thought experiment to think what our situation might look like from a different (alien) perspective.

This is a guest post from First Talosian, the senior member of the planetary expedition force from Talos. I am posting the correspondence as we received it, unedited. (there are spelling and grammatical errors). In it he describes his culture's perspectives on Earth's history and future with particular emphasis on our energy and ecological intersections. The graphics were added by me after reading his letter.

First Talosian of Talos

Greetings to all Homo sapiens and any others on Earth who can understand this,

Each 10,000 years, one of our vessels visits your planet to observe, learn and enjoy its rich diversity. We cannot breathe your air for long (the 'air' on Talos is 68% Oxygen) so we park our vessel during our visit and observe by spectral telemetry screens. (Our ship is 3 miles above western Ecuador, but is cloaked - even your 'advanced' military will not find it).

According to our records, your planet is 4,588,250,000 years old (Talos is almost 7 billion). Our race is extremely old. We developed space travel about 800 million years ago and have been coming to earth for almost that long. To our knowledge, there are 19,056 planets in the universe (and there are actually 2 universes) that possess the genetic combinations that you call `life'. However, your planet contains over 16% of all species in the universe (over 10 million) and as such has long been one of our favorites. Too, we are very smart (to our knowledge the smartest among interstellar life-forms.) Our brains evolved to be extremely large due to special conditions on Talos that no longer exist.

Our Planet Talos (very far away)

We continue space-travel to different galaxies to experience new sights and experiences, the memories and quandaries of which then circulate in our minds for millenia like a hundred sided rubicks toy cube. Otherwise we get bored quite easily and experience mental decay. Sadly, the females of our race died out 20 million years ago so we cannot reproduce. However, our scientists (in particular a genius even by Talos standards named Cornelius), discovered how to regenerate neurons with virtually no thermodynamic loss, thereby stopping aging almost completely. There are now 1,752 Talosians left, and for all purposes we are immortal on your human time scale. Too, we bleed and laugh and experience joy and pain just like we observe you do. A bullet or a bite from a jandar would be just as deadly for us. But we are cautious. Now let me continue.

This is my 19th visit to your blue planet. My first trip here was in your year 4,529,665,520, which was just before the asteroid impact that removed the large mammals and well before the primate line began from the morphological isolation of tarsiers, shrews or other pre-prosimians. But most of my visits have been in the last 2 million years, and this is my 11th trip in a row (110,000 earth years). On my last visit here 10,000 years ago, there were only about 1 million hominids on the planet- in a fraction of earths history your population has increased 65,000 fold. Let me continue. (human: insert graphics here)

Imagine this is the 5,000th graph laid side by side - the other 4,999 would all look like the left part of this one

Click twice on the above graph to make it clearer

What stayed underneath your planet's crust for millions of years, is now being sucked out rapidly in order to maintain your current social trajectory. For us this would be tragic as we are extremely long lived and the 0-20 years in which you quarrel about when Peak Oil arrives is irrelevant. Talosians long ago matched our consumptive needs with our planets unique solar flows, (even though we had to import certain technologies that enabled us to accomplish this).

Our purpose on Earth is mostly benign. Other than the Talosian utility we get from observing your biodiversity and it's interactions, each time we come we replenish a supply of DreamGrubs, which are only found on your planet, in Ecuador and Peru - we bring them back and breed them. Consumption of 15-20 of these grubs induces sleep followed by 3-4 days of vivid colorful dreams - dreams that for some reason always include having children, so you can imagine our desire for them. The grubs were once highly competed for but we are less than 2,000 now so have plenty to share. Our other purpose is less benign, but cannot be spoken of. Let me continue.

Your beautiful Planet

Congratulations, first of all, to your human ancestors. They successfully out-competed thousands of other species for resource acquisition and were able to squat in the most productive ecosystem areas. Wondrous creatures we remember from past millennia like saber-tooth tigers, mastodons, and dapling wolves (you are yet to find their skeletons), were muscled out by the recent global advance of your tribes. After you split from the main primate line 5 million years ago and then rapidly developed a larger and larger neo-cortical region during the climate volatility 500,000-1,000,000 years ago, your ability to think, imagine and create has become unique on your planet. However, your basic neural impulses originated from the same phylogenetic pathways as all creatures on earth, and as such a Talosian would view your culturally implied superiority over other sentient genetic combinations as misplaced. The primitive `reptilian' brain that activates your fight or flight responses and regulates your neural-endocrine cascade system is over a half a billion years old and shared by all earth creatures that move away from painful stimuli and towards food, energy and warmth. Your emotions, part of an intricate limbic system that fears, hungers, wants, sleeps, plays and feels satisfied has largely the same sea-horse shaped structure( with the exception of its interplay with the frontal cortex) as all other terrestrial mammals,. Too, it must be so, as you evolved from them. It is your neo-cortex that separates your behaviours and potentials from the other mammals and the size of it that further explains your recent success relative to the other 310 primate species. Let me continue. (human -insert graphics here)

The Triune HomoSapiens Brain

On this visit to earth I am experiencing unpleasant sensations. This is the first time my crew feels fear at what we will discover here on our next voyage. Homo sapiens has clearly won the earth resource lottery ticket. Through the incredible, but mathematically probable, relentless success of your ancestors, your neural circuitry through natural selection has become wired to locate, concentrate and consume resources. All creatures do this, but you have become the best at it. Because you are the best, your activities are squeezing out other species you compete with, that don't possess your large brains. Only in the current generation has this propensity begin to run up against boundaries in both inputs (resources) and outputs (homo sapiens waste products).

The fossil fuels that you have built modern human tribes interactions around, are running out. They started running out the first day you decided to harness them. We knew that one day one of several species on this planet would puzzle out how to access and utilize the highly concentrated forms of energy buried beneath your planets surface- we have had many debates and dreams of how this species (which we now discover is human) would utilize this bounty. You are still a young species, and your rational, cognitive systems are as yet not strong enough to overcome your emotional urges from hundreds of millions of generations of selection as mammals and more recently the tribal competition and social cooperation that selected for brain expansion during the Pleistocene. With wiring so geared towards sharply valuing the present over the future (what your econo-humans call `steep discount rates'), it was somewhat to be expected that the oil and gas would predominantly be used as quickly as possible once found. What has surprised us, is how little of this energy has been spent building infrastructure that will sustain your species once the fossil remains fully deplete. Of even more concern to the Talosians on our ship, is how little of this energy has been spent protecting and sustaining the other species that did not win the fossil lottery. In fact, it seems some historical roles have been reversed.

Role Reversal

Talosians have much knowledge of things, but it is our policy not to interfere with other planets own evolutionary processes. Even this correspondence to is a borderline violation of our Central Committees' bylaws, but as First Talosian, and a childhood dreamer of Earths beauty and diversity, I have chosen to share some of our thinking, with the intent that it might influence people to view Earths' situation with a slightly different lens - perhaps lessening their discount rate and thinking more of the future. Our long lives make our brains run more like computers (zero discount rates), as opposed to drug addicts (very steep discount rates). Without trying to label or judge human value systems, we have come up with the following observations of planet earth and her supply and demand situation for energy. Let us proceed.


99% of the species ever to live on planet earth are no longer with you - their 'technology' was not adequate to supply sufficient usable energy as their environment changed. This is what faces human systems now, but of all, is the simplest problem to address. Energy is germane for the energy services it provides. Human choices for a certain way of life dictate how much and of what form of energy you need. The two previous human generations designed speed-vehicles and tall structures and a vast network of economic comparative advantage trading depots, all requiring large inputs of inexpensive liquid fossil fuel to move items to where they were needed. This was all built on your assumption of perpetually negligible transportation costs. This was a trajectory that was shaped before you were born. But it falls on your generation to recognize it as unsustainable (and perhaps undesirable, though we don't 'know' your preferences). Given that all of the highest quality fossil fuels will be consumed in one human generation (2 at most), there only exists one sustainable supply side strategy. And that is to transmute remaining stocks of fossil energy into renewable forms. You have fossil stocks of fuel (S) and renewable flows of energy from the sun (R). From the perspective of a long lived species, continuing to promote and pursue infrastructure and systems that require high net energy fuel sources that will deplete within a generation shows the inferior intelligence of your species (my apologies, rather, it highlights your evolved response to heavily overweight the present). Here is how we view the energy side of your problem.

Earth still possesses fossil resources F1, F2, F3...Fn....where F1=high quality oil, F2=tar sands, F3=coal, etc.

Earth has potentially harvestable renewable sources R1,R2, R3..Rn... where R1 might be wind, R2 =solar PV, R3=hydro,etc.

X= Energy Output *(R/(S+R)) / Energy Input * (R/S+R)

To view your situation from a net energy perspective is superior to abstract economics, but sustainability of the strongest form would preclude any fossil fuel usage, unless to create regenerational infrastructures. The sum total of new energy schemes for your species should maximize for X(X1,X2...Xn), which in effect is producing the largest renewable output for the smallest fossil input. For interests of sustainability, to create diesel fuel from coal in this formula is only a stopgap measure, as all your fossil input does not create renewable flows. Once S is gone, X will equal the sum of all R1,R2...Rn. Put simply, you want to have the highest renewable energy return on your remaining fossil resources not used for basic needs. However, before you do this in earnest, we 'recommend' that you examine your end goals first - this will prevent 10 earth years and 300 billion barrels of oil burned attempting to create the same ends you now aspire to, before discovering the dead end. Let us continue


Satisfaction, for all creatures is generating a neuro-endocrine-hormonal balance that feels right to them. Evolution has shaped brains (through a relentless fitness filter) to maximize copies of genes sent to the next generation, and to help those genes (in the form of offspring) survive. Humans (and Talosians, and squirrels) are born equipped to learn certain behaviours easily and other things with difficulty or not at all. Humans cannot take down wildebeests with their fingernails. Squirrels cannot type HTML code. Prepared learning does not suggest your paths are predestined. A squirrel does not automatically know how to crack a nut, but once he tries it several times, he is better at it than most species could ever be. It appears to us that homo sapiens scientists are fast discovering the importance of the brain/behaviour link. If we could only trust you and breathe your air, we could teach your neuro-economists some shortcuts towards designing institutions that would be better fits for your biology.

Every day you each attempt to attain the same total brain cocktail (and this is simplified) that caused your ancestors to meet with evolutionary success (have offspring). While this may not be your conscious goal, in a world full of high energy fuels, the competition instinct manifests in planetary consumption. Such may or may not move you up the human mating ladder but is clearly a bad thing for some. As a species, you would be well served to select activities that give you the same 'total brain cocktails' as you were designed to experience, but cognitively choose them from lower energy footprint options. Humans get this cocktail from activities such as sharing, eating, solving problems, novelty seeking, sex, competition, love, cooperation, playing games, etc.

In effect, both individuals and society should attempt to optimize

B/R, or Total Brain Cocktail / Resources (of which Energy is an important one) If you get the same feeling of excitement or contentment from building a chicken coop with your family as a shopping center with your real estate team, or playing parcheesi with your neighbor as playing a golf tournament in Las Vegas, you will be pursuing darwinian happiness. The trick is acknowledging that your intelligence is not strong enough to overcome your emotional systems, and then using your intelligence to plot a course through that neural minefield. Let us continue.

But humans, like Talosians, also can imagine a future, sometimes with hope and sometimes with dread. The above equation B / R is a precursor to what humans might call happiness(or an econo-human might call `personal utility') It is a combination of your current brain cocktail combined with a discounted present value stream of all PERCEIVED future brain cocktails. If you engage in wild hedonistic pleasures, you are getting much of the former, but knowledge and experience in the neocortex tell you that your future is being eaten into by dangerous sex, drugs, spending money, or the like. Humans inherently optimize the equation:

U=Bt + (Bt+1)/(1+d) + (Bt+2)/(1+d)^2 + .... (Bt+x)/(1+d)^x)

which states that Utility equals your current 'neurotransmitter cocktail' plus all future such cocktails that you expect (at the current moment) discounted by a discount rate d. For most animals on your planet the discount rate is near 1, meaning they don't know there is a future - so for sub-primates at least, the above equation simplifies to U=Bt. Humans still have steep discount rates of up to 20% (meaning that events beyond 10 years hold virtually zero weight in daily decisions) but you still possess the potential to delay gratification in ways that earths other creatures cannot

Since Talosians are long lived species the impact of Bt of the present moment (the first term on the equation) is greatly reduced. For humans to access future thinking however, you are limited by your wiring. To take advantage of knowledge of this, you can:

  1. given a choice between consuming now or consuming in the future, you should make the perception of a future with nothing to consume seem less appealing, therefore weighting the `saving' mechanism and delaying consumption.
  2. reduce the discount rate in the equation. Since you are genetically constrained, this could occur through cultural changes in mores and values.
  3. become addicted to a drug, thereby radically steepening your discount rate so that the future seems very distant, less important and therefore less painful.

I suspect that the event you are calling 'Peak Oil', which a Talosian would just call 'half-time', will produce many humans in all 3 of the above categories. Let us continue.


Most thinking humans would look at the above population chart and wonder how high it can go, especially given the coming resource constraints. How do you value a human life? How do you value an animals life? How do you value other species who do not have as developed a neocortex as your own? What price is a lion? What price are all lions? These are questions your society may face - you will likely think that clearly one human life is worth more than the life of one lion - but what about one human vs 1000 lions? Or one human versus the entire lion species? And what is the end goal for humanity? To have the most humans as possible? To have the most `happy' humans as possible (acknowledging this might be less than the most humans). Is having 6 billion happy creatures preferable to 12 billion miserable ones. This gets at the quality of life issue and at some point or other these questions will be looked at on your world. To run pell mell into an ecological overcapacity situation without examing them will end badly. While the situation is still manageable, humans are ingenious and clever, but when it becomes unmanageable, I fear you will revert to less cognitive behavior. I ask these hypothetical questions, because our society has been through this all before. Here is how we did it on Talos (the second time around)

We maximized, using the previously stated formulas:

Bt*P which equates to Darwinian 'Happiness' * Human Population

A weak form of this formula for your planet might only include homo sapiens in the population. A stronger form would assign a sentience quotient to all other species that have the ability to feel pain, joy, and experiences. A dolphin might be equal to 4 dogs and a monkey might be worth 7 dolphins and a human might equate to 9 monkeys, or some such. Mathematically,

P*=Sum (A==>Z)(C)*(B)*(P)

where A thru Z are all Earthbound sentient species, C is their sentience factor, B is the evolutionary brain cocktail (from above) and P is their population. In this stronger form, we maximize P*. This seems the only fair way for the most advanced species on a planet to incorporate the value of its planetary neighbors. (Talos once had almost 1 million species and our drive to develop warp capability raised the temperature beyond what most species could tolerate.) Perhaps human value systems are unique, and the continued existence and freedom of other species is a benefit in its own right. I do not know, things have changed a bit since my last visit.



Given the ultimate renewable energy flow, you should want to maximize the utility of the population, or given the utility of the population, you should maximize the ultimate renewable energy flow. I wish you luck.

In a generation your fossil fuels will have been largely used. It is of some urgency that you prioritize use of the remaining high quality fuels, while a global infrastructure still readily functions, to turn these fossil stocks into renewable flows. But before you do this, you must examine your end goals. Can you experience happiness consistent with your evolution by consuming less energy? Can you find ways to value the future at least a little bit more than you do now? Can you articulate what is the goal of life on earth, scientifically? Does that articulation include other life forms, that are bystanders to the rabid pursuit of more fuel and planetary thermodynamic throughput? The answers to these questions will dictate what types of energy infrastructure will be needed and guide energy investments going forward.

To a Talosian, the way that humans rank things is strange. Your daily hierarchy is money-luxury-energy-food-water-environment. On our planet, we have the exact opposite ranking system, and money is just used to purchase luxury items (like grub-drug). However, our planet twice witnessed ecological disaster on a large scale, with green life forms nearly disappearing. Subsequent generations of Talosians worked together to prioritize fragile ecosystems that now provide life support functions for our remaining population and 38 other species.

I advise your tribal units and their tribal units above them to imagine an earth without everything you see in it now. Erase from your minds for the time being all the Wal-marts, Disneylands, KFC's and concrete. Imagine waking up tomorrow and creating a world where things worked, people were happy and healthy and the environment was safe. I am not human so dont know what that would look like - perhaps the world you have created is just so. - If it isnt then determine and clarify what you desire. What makes you happy. What are the sustainable things that bring most holistic fulfillment as individuals, as tribes and as a species.

What are your values? Do not confuse your values attached to a seemingly fixed infrastructure with your true values. Once you elucidate clear values, rely on a combination of self-actualization towards these values on a local scale and on social contract theory on a macro scale. Your species has been shaped to follow rules set by the predominant culture and rulemakers. Determine your ends/values democratically, and have your human governing body use science to create the social contracts that most efficiently map a plan from today to tomorrow. This plan should balance the two goals of maximizing the likelihood of attaining your new ends, and minimizing the chances of slipping down the historical slope of war and chaos.

Determine the ends first without the momentum of the current means to guide you. Once you outline and put mental color on new ends, engage your best scientists and citizens to make it so.

I can not, nor would I, judge and choose a human value system. You must consider this and choose for yourselves. But do not do so from the static world as you see it today. Envision the world as you want it to be first. Then draw a path from today to tomorrow. And start soon.

Let us close
In Sincerity,
Ember Dyadicon
First Talosian
Nov 2, 2006 (Actually 4,588,250,000)

Post-scripte-I was charged with delivery of this note. Everything Ember said was to convince you to save the climate so he can keep on harvesting DreamGrubs. If climate change alters their ecosystem he is going to be pissed.
Thaddeus Grommaker
Assistant to First Talosian

i would like to point out that this is satire with factual information. least anyone stumbling on this site thinks this is literal and thus think we are nuts.


To clarify: The First Talosian does exist and has been hovering above Ecuador for a few years on his latest visit to earth. He does love the dream grubs. Most of that stuff about Peak Oil and Anthropogenic Global Climate Change is just stuff the Talosians make up to see what we will do if we believe it. This keeps them entertained -- rolling on the floor of their cloaked spaceship in between tripping out on dream grubs.

Just so we can separate fact from fiction, and all that.

This keeps them entertained

Yes, I imagine they were getting tired of Twister and not being taken seriously in Wikipedia edits...

Indeed ... I'm sometimes a bit alarmed by all the references to Star Trek on this site - an excellent series but one that I stopped being interested in once out of my teens, which was a VERY long time ago ...


Too bad this would bounce off the craniums of most humans, or at least most Americans.

They worship the 'Gospel of Prosperity'. Consumption = happiness. What is good for business is good for America. Might makes Right. America is 'blessed' and we are God's 'chosen ones'. People are free to starve and die without health care, as long as they conform to the theocracy-government's mandates for private/personal behaviors and lifestyles; Resources are effectively infinite; the market will automatically solve all problems and create new opportunities as long as our personal behaviors and attitudes do not anger the God of Vengeance; Be fruitful and multiply, and kill those who might plot against us and our holy-enshrined existence; and if the World goes to Hell in a hand basket then hallelujah, the Rapture will take the true believers to the right hand of the Lord God to live in blissful paradise forever, and to hell with everything else, Amen.

Recall as much of the story of Jesus Christ as you can. Or even read it from one of the stories told -- and there are plenty of stories told.

The messages of prophets preceding Christ had plenty to say about peace and justice.

John the Baptist was "the voice crying in the wilderness" who most immediately preceded Christ. He frightened the Establishment because he was too popular with the crowds.

Jesus set the Establishment on edge by taking the side of the poor and the oppressed, and ended up being executed through the cooperation of the religious and civil powers of his day.

I mention this to point out the power of stories. The stories told by Jesus and many other prophets challenge the meta-narratives of people who achieve and hold power through genocide and slavery.

After years of digging out of USAmerican protestant fundamentalism, I've come to see these prophetic stories as a kind of collective existential provocation designed to help us to evolve beyond what is ultimately a suicidal course -- eco-cide.

Jesus has been the biggest problem for the religious Establishment since the early days.

He hung out with the wrong crowd -- often seen with drunkards and prostitutes, casually speaking to women as though they were equals, calling the religious authorities bad names -- bastards and vipers and the like.

The religious Establishment still has to dance in circles to Disney-fy (spelling: Disnify? .. a verb meaning to make like Disney) the stories of Jesus Christ and get it to look like he was one of them.

The obscene wedding together of the stories of Christ with secular/religious narratives -- which essentially rationalize the same old rapacious approach to planet and people -- is best called by its true name in this country, which is Christo-fascism. The term actually came from a German theologian. Check out wikipedia for details of the idea.

My biggest concern is that Christofascism is the dominant fundamentalist narrative in the USA which has been used to justify genocide against Native Americans and now is used to justify war crimes in the current ongoing resource war.

The marriage of rapacious consumerism, the military-industrial complex, military aggression to establish control of resources, and religion is possibly the most dangerous and potent problem of our time.

How can you not despair for the human race especially after what I read yesterday in the drumbeat.
First I read where someone claimed the passenger pigeon deserved to go extinct because it would't breed. Insinuating it was dumb.

Forget that Homo Sapein Sapien (wise man, as we righteously named ourselves)) destroyed its habitat and hunted it to a few breeding pairs, forget that when we realized they were becoming scarce we went into blood-lust craze and killed them all before there may not be any left to kill.

Then we had posters saying how stupid birds were because they flew into windows.
No care for their habitat we destroy and alter, or regard for millions of years of evolution which enabled them to live sustainably. Birds are stupid but we are intelligent.

We are so intelligent that we can rationalize anything.
We can destroy the habitat of tigers and apes, place a few breeding pairs in cages and blame them for not breeding, it will be their fault they went extinct.

We can factory farm the oceans, we can kill whales for practice and slaughter baby seals for their fur and rationalize our actions.

We are fair though, we can and have committed homicide, mass murder, ethnic cleanse and genocide. We abort our own babies.

We are so intelligent................We are destroying our own habitat.

Bandits -- well put.

Eco-cide = species suicide.

The end looks to be near indeed.

So what do we do?

Voluntary suicide, to rid the planet of some of our species?

Suicide via eco-cide? That is, do we make more babies and consume as much as possible in order to bring about the end of our species sooner?

We are very truly killing the very ecosystem that is our life support, and that supports many other species as well.

Is the the purpose of our species?

How do we know what comes after us?

Maybe we are here to consume and pollute in just the way that we do consume and pollute?

Perhaps our violence -- the single most distinguishing characteristic of our species, as far as I can tell -- is simply who we are?

I would choose differently, but it looks like my choices do not matter at all, in spite of all the crap spun out by the mouthpieces of the military-industrial complex in academia, religion, politics, and the media.

In the face of disinfotainment and the annihilation of the significance of individual choice, I keep plugging along, just in case there is a deeper force or magic at work.

Absurd? Whatever.

I cannot yet bring myself to kill myself or others on the premise that we are evil and that the planet needs us to commit suicide in some intentional way.

We seem to be bringing every ounce of human technology and energy to bear upon the task of killing ourselves off as it is. Any intentional effort of such a kind by an individual would surely be foiled by those who are already doing a better job of it anyhow.

So cheer up.

I myself will stumble along toward something remotely sustainable until I can no longer do so. I will try to nurture the diminishing diversity of species along the way -- as much as I can.

Along the way, I will try to find something to laugh or smile about, as absurd as that may seem.

All we have to do is answer one question: what will I choose to do between now and whenever I die?

Yes, those were some stupid posts: the one about birds being stupid because they sometimes fly into windows, especially.

But to be fair, when it was finally realized that passenger pigeon populations were collapsing, pigeons were sometimes captured for captive breeding programs. These programs were largely unsuccessful because the pigeons were evolved to nest in large colonies that the breeding programs couldn't replicate. This is just a fact and has no normative significance.

Hi MoonWatcher - unfortunately, I think you hit the nail squarely on the head. Every time, (in my affluent, right wing, religious community) I see one of those "God Bless America" lawn signs (which imply "and screw the rest of the world") I wonder how we can ever make any rational decisions regarding planetary issues. Most US citizens have this notion that humans are beings with special privilages granted by a divine entity. Most of us don't even like to be called a "species" as it seems demeaning and compares us to other ordinary animals. If life is just a "valley of tears" to determine our fate in an afterlife, then why should we care about environmental conditions for future generations a century or so down the road? Future generations will have their own tests for getting to heaven. If human life involves a sacred "soul" and other life forms are "soul-less", then why should we be concerned about the extinction of other species? If our religion is "correct" and others are "false" then what is wrong with killing the non-belivers? It's hard to see how we get beyond this mentality.

Doesn't your scalp really itch under that big glob of pink foam rubber? I don't think I could stand it...


Nate -- did the First Talosian autograph that photo?

Maybe next time.

Doesn't your scalp really itch under that big glob of pink foam rubber?

No, that must be Silly Putty - lots and lots of Silly Putty. Amazing what you can do with that stuff. . .

Errata: I believe you intended the Utility formula to be;

U=Bt + (Bt+1)/(1+d) + (Bt+2)/(1+d)^2 + .... (Bt+x)/(1+d)^x)

However, with a discount rate of 1, U still doesn't equal Bt; perhaps you meant this in a figurative sense.

If Ember came to speak to us directly, say at a high school auditorium, we'd still hear someone from the back row yell, "Hey, who does your hair?"

Now honestly, his countenance must have something to do with the grubs, a gargantuan sinus headache, or his underwear still being too tight...

Gosh, TOD:Campfire really is a good way to obtain diverse input.

That would have been me in the back of the auditorium (sorry Nate, I just couldn't help myself). There was so much stuff to work with here -- the colorized moon, a squeezebulb in the pocket to make the veins throb, and I think I have some of those grubs working on my suburban lawn while I waste time on the internets inside here. (in Texas, the armadillos like grubs too)

If Gene Roddenberry had a blog back in the late '60s he would no doubt have been deluged with such remarks.

If a discount rate of 1 has U = Bt, I believe the Utility function might be closer to;

U = Bt + (Bt-Bt^d) + (Bt-Bt^(d^(1/2))) + .... (Bt-Bt^(d^(1/x)))

When one of those untamed bad news Black Swans poops in the middle of your equation ... what then Horatio?

One uses a Bounty QuickerPickerUpper, of course...

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

William Shakespeare, Hamlet

I remember this post fondly from a couple of years ago. I think Nate and I have the same sense of humor (and even draw upon the same cultural baggage), which also works well to deal with the weighty issues brought up in this post.

Seriously, this is a gem from the archives. It brings up so many core subjects at once and relates them to each other clearly. Evolution, discount rates, energy lottery, overshoot, evaluating good "ends," self delusion, the role of institutions, etc.

Thanks Nate.

A fascinating contribution from outer space. But a big 'but' from an activist, impassioned futilitarian.
You write:

Sadly, the females of our race died out 20 million years ago so we cannot reproduce.

Lucky you – you have no women to screw up your energy saving objectives.
We male earthlings, unfortunately, have women. And since we also need them we have to give them what they want, since otherwise we won't get them.
Allow me to express myself bluntly. For evolutionary reasons, with which you are familiar, women exchange their sexual services for commodities and -- ceteris paribus -- the more commodities the male has access to the more sexual services he is likely to receive and the more offspring he is likely to produce. Yet you talk about the joys of 'building a chicken coop' or 'playing parcheesi with your neighbour' and even have the gall to assert that those who opt for this lifestyle 'will be pursuing Darwinian happiness'.
You must be joking. What planet are you living on?
Try wooing the heart of a female earthling with that chicken coop / parcheesi stuff and your chances of scoring will plummet to zero. Your fate will be a lifetime of unrequited love (a euphemism for sexual frustration) and genetic extinction. Or try offering the female earthling a basket full of your homegrown organic tomatoes instead of a bouquet of flowers. Or try telling the female earthling that your dream honeymoon would be a cross-country trip on a Greyhound bus. The sad truth is that male sexual success is largely, though not exclusively, a function of his energy consumption.
Cherchez la femme

a big 'but' from an activist, impassioned futilitarian

For evolutionary reasons, with which you are familiar, women exchange their sexual services for commodities and -- ceteris paribus -- the more commodities the male has access to the more sexual services he is likely to receive and the more offspring he is likely to produce.

The sad truth is that male sexual success is largely, though not exclusively, a function of his energy consumption.

Big 'buts' notwithstanding, human females do not require actual commodities, merely the illusion of plenty. Any male who acts like he is secure is treated as though he is. Thus, they will pretty much tumble into the sack on the thinnest of boneheaded pretexts. The human males who figure this out get laid a lot, the others not so much.

Greenish, you write:

Thus, they will pretty much tumble into the sack on the thinnest of boneheaded pretexts. The human males who figure this out get laid a lot, the others not so much.

I'm afraid I'll have to report you to the 'All Men are Liars' website so that you will be FLAGGED and BLACKLISTED:

Does he really bank loads and loads at his fantabulous job? Does he really want to take you round the world in his private jet? Yeah. Sure he does. It is amazing how many women fall for this kind of thing. Wake up!

Ah, but I think human males are, on average, even more boneheaded than human females. My comment was not prescriptive, simply pointing out that no commodities actually need change hands or even exist for the human mating dance to be consummated. Nor are all boneheaded pretexts untrue, sometimes they're just boneheaded.

Who is the odder case, a fellow who jumps a motorcycle over flaming busses, those who pay money to watch him try it, or the groupies who have sex with him due to the perceived status thereby attained? Reproductive fitness isn't what it once was.

Nor have I in general taken advantage of this sort of delusionality to breed with silly females, who have often assumed I had some sort of invisible high status or wealth due to my eery self-confidence and the way people they think of as high status have sought to be around me.

Boneheaded women having sex with boneheaded men for boneheaded reasons is pretty much the human condition. It is not a conspiracy theory.

I like the blacklisting info and will pass it along to my wife.

I "uprate" this humans commentary.

Any male who acts like he is secure is treated as though he is.

Yup. This so true, particularly in settings that deviate from ancestral ones - namely, big cities.

I graduated from the University of Hawaii (manoa) a couple years ago. There was a very nice homeless man who lived near campus and would spend a lot of time at the campus library. Every time I saw this man, he was wearing a suit and tie - not in the best condition, but still looking quite respectable. The only reason I knew he was homeless was because I would see him carrying around a plastic sack, or looking for food around Safeway.

I once asked him about his choice of clothing. He confirmed what I had suspected. He wore the suit simply because when wearing it, other people treated him better.

Modern cities provide an unprecedented degree of anonymity. A person can move to a new city and become a new person overnight. A person can project a different identity to strangers, simply by changing his or her demeanor, clothing style, personal habits, and so on.

This is a relatively recent phenomenon. We evolved in small bands where people tended to know one another personally, their talents, reputations, habits, and personalities. Women knew which men were best hunters, they knew who the leaders of other men were. This is often no longer true.

All this has relevance outside the realm of mating. Men who are aware of what's coming (economic collapse, peak oil, environmental catastrophe) can and should take advantage of this opportunity to better themselves. There's plenty of room for improvement - it's not like you have to become your local 'big man'. There are tons of phenomenal books on Amazon that provide GREAT knowledge on how to master the small (yet important) stuff - body language, demeanor, do's and don'ts when dealing with people, increasing inner confidence, forming social connections, etc. It's probably the best investment a male can make.

All right so if I object that I am a woman and my husband is the one dragging his feet insisting on eating beef and keeping the temperature above 65 in the house, "forgetting" to compost or recycle and driving the gas guzzler to the corner store to get "Lunchables" (details here: for the kids while I slave over homemade beet soup, you will probably say I am the exception that proves the rule.

However, I think your concerns are superficial. "Average" women are also interested in men with muscles, presumably suited to farming and building chicken coops. Frankly I am surprised that either 1. there are so few women out there who understand peak oil, climate change, etc... or 2. there is such a widespread view among TOD readers of women as airheads.

No wonder I couldn't find a decent man to marry until my mid-thirties...


My comment was of course a caricature. The reality of human mating behaviour is a continuum -- with gold-diggers and whores at one end of the spectrum and Mother Theresa types at the other.

As to beef eating -- it's in the male genes, I'm afraid.

You and your errant couch-potato husband might enjoy this book:

Why Men Don't Iron: The New Reality of Gender Differences

I'm glad your comment was a caricature, but as a string of comments a couple of weeks back, and the comment by WT below indicate, this appears to be a serious issue. I hate to see an additional obstacle to fighting global warming being this issue of the need to impress a potential mate... I am really so in my insular world I was forgetting that men buy big cars because women think that is impressive. Then there was that other post about buying a big SUV to keep up with the Joneses. Discouraging...

Interesting book title - Why men don't iron - Gender differences are fascinating, nature vs. nurture and all that. I'm raising three little boys and wondering what I should be doing so their future spouses don't hang me by my toenails.

Men Overspend to Attract Mates

The biggest male spenders in the survey were found to have the highest number of reported past partners and desired the most future partners.

The finding, detailed in the current issue of the journal Evolutionary Psychology, did not hold with women.

Vying for women is simply what men do and have done for hundreds of thousands of years, said study leader Daniel Kruger, a social and evolutionary psychologist at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health. But how they entice mates has evolved.

"Men in the ancestral environment were valued if they were good providers," Kruger said. "Now we have this new consumer culture, so basically we show our potential through the consumer goods that we purchase, rather than being a good hunter or providing protection."

To the big spender I would say the same as I did to boys in high school boasting about how many girls they'd been with.

"If you were so good, howcome she let you go?"

If a person has a dozen bankrupted businesses behind them, or a driver a dozen smashed cars, we do not say that they are a successful business person, or an excellent driver.

But in many cases, cheap oil has allowed easy entry to new tribes, who are unaware of failed businesses or previously smashed cars. The decay factor in social contracts is about to become meaningful again...

Sadly, that is the present situation, yes.

I can't remember where I read it, but someone was talking about that compromise part of socialisation and cars.

In your daily workplace and home and hobbies, plenty of people piss you off, but everyone holds back a bit and tries to find a compromise, or even a consensus. This happens because you see the same people again and again, so you've both short and long-term feedback on your behaviour. If you really piss anyone off they'll remember.

In traffic, each day you're dealing with hundreds or even thousands of people you've never met and never will meet. There's no feedback. If you survive the moment then it's as though it never happened. Thus road rage and traffic jams and dangerous driving and hit and runs.

I mean, if someone cuts you off going to the lift on the way up to the office, you don't scream, "out of my way, motherfucker!" But if another car cuts you off, you might.

So if we have less cars tooling around, one good result could be that people treat each-other with more respect. We see for example in this article talk of how there was a rock in the road, and the drivers just veered around it - only pedestrians stopped to pick it up even though it'd not help them, only drivers.

It's yet another reason that I think the end of the era of cheap oil won't mean a Mad Maxian world. Because it's harder to be a sociopathic madman if you don't have a car. What self-respecting villain would ride a pushbike?

In evolutionary biology and game theory this is termed reciprocal altruism and tit-for-tat (choosing to cooperate on first iteration and then act however your opponent acted on the prior iteration. In our ancestral environment, there would have been 'many iterations', which is why altruism is so embedded in our current behaviors. The Hare Krishnas knew this (or figured out the results without knowing the mechanics) when in the 1970s and 1980s they would give people flowers for free and sing a song then ask for money - once this initial 'cooperation' was witnessed, it made it very difficult psychologically to deny giving them some money.

The stronger ones history and longer one expects to have future iterations, the weaker the decay factor. My best friend from high school would have to screw me like 8-10 times before I would start to not give him the benefit of the doubt. Someone I just met via TOD I would also extend the benefit of the doubt on the first interaction - but if I was taken advantage of, etc. the decay in my altruistic tendency would be steep. As I said above, I suspect that reciprocal altruism is going to play a more prominent role going forward in our social structure. Due to more expected future interaction, our behaviors towards our neighbors might have to step up a notch or too. There is also what is called 'strong reciprocity', where we not only punish 'defectors' but punish those who fail to punish known defectors.

A world made by hand...;-)

Time to execute that Chili Feed party for my township (we are so sparsely populated that I could entertain all the people living in our 36 square mile township). Will need that reciprical altruism in the months/years to come. That and I love a party. We have a local beer brewer -- Brau Brothers, that makes fantastic beer. They even grow their own hops. Add that to local capacity and all is well.

I purposefully moved to a smallish town for these reasons and found them to be very true. Always before lived where anonymity was possible, and the social dynamics are completely different!

Jason -- and all -- I think that I follow your train of thought here. A part of me agrees with you, but ... I spent my high school years in a small Iowa town. My experience was different: the small town was oppressive for me.

I was a teen child of a right-wing fundamentalist minister, so that colored everything ... ?

At that time Iowa seemed to be abandoning any libertarian or liberal roots in favor of the strong surge of American right wing protestant christian evangelicalism.

There were significant differences amoung people ib town -- almost competing tribes.

There were bikers -- lawless, full of booze and other drugs and fast and loud motorcycles.

There were other transportation tribes as well: like muscle car builders and wanna-bees. From 1972 -1976, any kid with that fire in his belly could buy and modify a car, and drive and insure it by working part-time and also working on it in shop class at high school.

The small town had other tribes -- conservative "Silent Majority" types and racists who also overlapped with protestant Christian fundamentalists. There were hippie-types and a few old-school liberals laced through town as well.

But overall, people were too pigeon-holed according to the tribe their family-of-origin belonged to. In addition, people knew too much about one another and also felt too confident that they themselves were right while others were wrong.

This gave rise to too many unspoken tensions and also to intense ideological, religious, and parochial rivalries which tended to destroy rather than weave together the social fabric.

Perhaps some small towns develop differently than others .... ?

so their future spouses don't hang me by my toenails.

You bring them up to choose strong women. That's good work.

cfm in Gray, ME

Just take the comment as evidence that men as are as dumb as women.

Or maybe more so.

I saw a film recently, some kids in the park at a party, one girl was saying to a boy that girls mature faster. He said it wasn't true. She said, "look over there, the two kids are the same age, the girl is talking and dancing around and the boy is sitting down drooling over pudding."

Some boys never pass that stage. There's a reason we're hairier than women. We're closer to apes.


There's a reason we're hairier than women. We're closer to apes.

Humans - of both sexes - ARE apes. "Ape" is the set, "human" is a subset. What is it about simple set theory that's so hard for some to understand?


What is it about simple set theory that's so hard for some to understand?

I think I read a study somewhere that concluded that Chimps can count to ten, that's about the general mathematical proficiency of the average Great Ape, what did you expect? :-)

Paranoid,maybe you came of age while we waited for Age of Aquarius?

From that generation?
No tattos? No butch cut?
Long hair? No lipstick?

Those were some women then. I loved to party.Dance all night to folk music. The Kingston Trio. Bob Dylan... on...
I don't think it was drugs that killed was something else....maybe TPTB.

I think a few of them are still around. Maybe posting here on TOD. I am sure of it.

A lost generation it was. Before its time.

Airdale-where is my bell bottom trousers?Gone but still got my mustache and muttonchops. Thinning out on top.

Sorry, no, I was born in 1962 (though you are right, no lipstick). Never hung out with the hippie dance all night types either. Came of age in the "prevention of nuclear war" movement, so did my share of folk singing, but stayed on the straight and narrow what with medical school and all that. I worked with Physicians for Social Responsibility and the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (Nobel Peace Prize, 1985).

Then went to work in community health centers for 20 years. What with the upbringing by left-leaning parents, it would be hard not to come down on the side opposed to consumerism, eventually developing an interest in Michael Pollan, the 100-mile diet and our local PowerDown intitiative, Transition Boulder County.

What did kill the long haired peace love hippies? The 1972 (per Kunstler) end of the peak of US oil production?

Hi Paranoid,

Congratulations on good life choices! Three cheers for a bit of nurture to complement the nature!

What did kill the long haired peace love hippies?

A lotta things. Things change. Most were pretty normal and if they survived they moved on because there were better things to do. Some lost the idealism, some didn't. Remember, Michael Pollan in TOD (The Omnivore's Dilemma) described the organic farmer that became a Big Organic Farmer. Yeah, many sold out the The Man for better and for worse.

Class of '70, Draft lottery #129...whew!

Class of 66 (the most drafted of the Vietnam War). Refused to comply, played the 2s game, eventually pulled a 320 something. It was a moot point. I did fight in the streets, was gassed some many times i can't count them, and my roommate was shot in the back by the tack squad.

What did kill the long haired peace love hippies?

Excesses by some, from too much aversion to the efforts required for food-gathering and shelter-providing to over-indulgence in mind-altering substances. Eventually the parents stopped replenishing the bank accounts and they had to seek a lower discount rate.

Kudos on your participation with the organizations you mention. Glad to have you here!

Try wooing the heart of a female earthling with that chicken coop / parcheesi stuff and your chances of scoring will plummet to zero.

That depends upon the discount rate of the female (i.e., the "material girl" factor). I discovered one highly appealing to me, and she is happy with parcheesi and simple pleasures. And she was the one 2 months ago who suggested we add chickens to our micro-farm population.

Of course, the definition of "scoring" has to be clarified; are we talking about a short term, high discount rate scoring, or a lifelong monogamous relationship?

Ditto, except I don't really know what Parcheesi is.. she loves me, even though she can't get me to play cards to save her life. But it was definitely not about my worldy wealth.

Alpha Male - Savinar used to post all his Mating-Dating-Anthropological Theories here, too, often about the slice of our culture that fits the BigCar=BigPhallus approach.

It's the kind of reality that fits well on Reality TV.

Alan Drake and an executive with the Dallas area transit agency (DART) recently did an interview on the local NPR station in Dallas--talking about the advantages of the no car, mass transit/New Urbanism lifestyle. I was there, waiting in the conference room, during the interview.

On the way out, the assistant producer came up to us and said that he was living the no car lifestyle, using a bike and mass transit, but he had found that as soon as women found he did not have car, they dropped him like a hot potato.

However, one would think that as time goes on, a thrifty, low consumption, lifestyle will become attractive to more potential mates, i.e., "Cheap is the new chic."

Re: being dropped like a hot potato

I guess it depends upon what criteria he values in a date. If he is seeking someone with compatible views then it could be that being dropped is merely his selection process working very well. If he values a partner who is thrifty and eco/peak oil aware then there is no need to alter his lifestyle. Eventually, like will attract like.

If, however, he desires the babes with $$ in their eyes all he has to do is pull out the bank roll, drive around in the $multi-k vehicle and live in the overpriced condo in coolsville. If he flashes it, tney will come. (all apologies to the cinematographer)

Just my opinion


remember WT is talking about Dallas, Texas. Those ladies are very high maintenance.

In my ELP article, I noted that a Dallas socialite observed that I must be from out of town (I am) because "No one raised in Dallas would ever talk about voluntarily living below one's means."

Actually, WT, it is hard to imagine a "socialite" from any town having an opinion other than pro-consumption. If that's the crowd you hang with - you will be confronted with this fact daily.

I would say that you get what you pay for, and in the currency with which you pay. If you want the flash - then you pay with the lifestyle. If you value thriftiness, sustainability and preparedness, the same is true.

I guess that our original person was making the one major error of associating and selecting from the wrong "tribe". If you look around anywhere, there are far fewer folks with an energy or eco-conscience than a consumer one. He just has a far smaller "tribe" from which to choose a companion, and his choice of lifestyle doesn't make him desirable to the consumer-ish "tribe" from whom he appears to be selecting.

My parental suggestion to this poor young man would be, "honey - you just go to one of your sustainability seminars, or conferences - there are bound to be lots of nice young women there who would admire your dedication and love to get to know you" LOL

again, just my opinion, FWIW,


Here was the reference to the Dallas socialite, from the ELP artilce (she was volunteer with a local cancer support group when I met her, and she actually agreed with my suggestions for a simpler way of life, but as noted, there was no way that she would ever talk about it in public):
(April, 2007)

The Responses Thus Far

Two responses, from recent years, are illustrative.

First, the West Texan. After outlining my plan, a friend of mine from West Texas thought about it for a moment and then said, “But if we stop borrowing and spending, what will happen to the economy?”

Second, the Dallas socialite. Again after outlining my plan, this lady said, “You’re not from Dallas, are you?” I replied that I was not. To which she said, “No one raised in Dallas would ever talk about living below their means.”

So, living below one’s means, at least in years past, was somehow considered vaguely un-American and socially unacceptable.

However, recently people who have followed some version of the ELP plan, either because of my recommendations, or based on their own evaluation of the present environment, have had considerable reasons to be glad that they voluntarily downsized. So far, I have not heard any regrets from anyone who downsized.

Or, turn it around. Does anyone now wish that they had bought a large SUV and large suburban McMansion--all with 100% financing--on January 1, 2006?

Finally, if we are wrong about Peak Oil, and if you followed the ELP plan, you will have less--or no--debt, more money in the bank, and a lower stress way of life.

From the female BS detector:
1) It's an excuse- he never had a date before switching to the bike
2) Although he biked everywhere- his dates would have to drive him everywhere (yawn)

1) It's an excuse- he never had a date before switching to the bike

Pure speculation. More likely, he is in an industry where image matters, and he runs into many "upwardly mobile" women on a regular basis, who see the lack of a car as some sort of "provider" shortfall or image deflator.

2) Although he biked everywhere- his dates would have to drive him everywhere (yawn)

Why? If he gets around without a car now, why would that change? It's likely the mindset of the women who cannot make the leap to a carfree dating lifestyle (e.g., biking, walking, taking the bus) and how that would negatively impress their friends and family about their consideration of a mate. Indeed, I heard women talk about looking out the window to see what kind of car the man drove up in on their first date as their major first impression.

I would think it would be wise for all men, to attract a partner who values them and not material objects. I mean "sugar-daddies" who live outrageous lifestyles only can keep those women as long as they can keep their wealth, if the wealth goes the women go. If you do it right, if your wealth goes your woman would stay. Rich men would be wise not to flaunt their wealth so they can better select a partner?

Ahhh was EASY to woo them in the 60's.
That is what they wanted.
A VW bus,a return to the land.

Living in Woodstock,NY I remember a lot of that back then. Seeing hippie women sitting on the curb nonchalantly breast feeding a baby.
Everyone hitching. Love was almost 'free'! Then some got the idea that there might be a revolt. Things got ugly in Chitown. Also at Kent State.
The world turned. We went away from all that. The yuppies came on the scene....and then? Yes what you say did happen. Take trophy wives as an example.

So maybe it could happen again?

But it did happen. Might be your weren't there then.

Airdale-I saw it with mine own eyes. Glory Be.

I came down from Idaho to the University of Utah. To this day I'm not sure why because all I ever wanted to do was be around cows and ride a good horse. But, education was supposed to be good for you and so I chose to participate. It was 1963, and yes, there were Hippies, even in Utah. I was envious; I wanted to participate, grow a beard, and long hair and wear beads like an old time Indian. But, sadly, I had to work, at the Foundry, knocking coal sand off of the roll frames for the rail cars out at the copper mine, during the summer time, and then the all night clerk at the Kwikee Market, mostly selling beer to the Frat kids during the school year. I was dismayed when I found out, the proletariat kids, sitting around drinking black coffee all day long, rolling their own Sail cigarettes, were almost always the kids who had rich parents and they were only proletarian because that was part of their getup (the blue work shirt seemed to be key). Most had never had a job, let alone a proletariat job. I really was one of the proletariat, but didn't know it. But, the chicks were swell, wherever they came from and I got along with them well mostly because I was a big strong kid and I wore my cowboy boots to the university. They had to get used to my country drawl, but I found I could talk with a slight German accent, some said I sounded like I was from Boston, and the country drawl disappeared, or maybe just wasn't noticed.

I never had a nice car, and have never lived in a big house. Conspicuous consumption has never been me. But, I have found the babes always fall for a guy with a cowboy hat on a big prancy horse. Spurs are good too. I've pretty much been able to take my pick. Of course it's over when I open my mouth without the German accent, but plenty of fun in the meantime. I took a big tumble from the cowboy ranks when I took a job as Wrangler for a Dude Outfit. I got used to tucking my pants into my boot tops and there was no such thing as too big a hat. I'd take em on five day trips into the desert in the spring time, or up on the mountain during the summertime. Most of the Dudes were women, and they all wore those god awful black stretch riding pants. They don't look good at all, especially after the gal wearing them has been sitting in the dirt for lunchtime. But, again, the girls sure like a guy on a big horse with a big hat. It's an evolutionary thing; the big horse is a sign of power. That's all. Doesn't say much about the choices women make. I'd be a really lousy mate; I'm not responsible. Best from the Fremont

This is extensively discussed on the website, where men who paint themselves orange, wear white belts, spend huge amounts of time at the gym, juice themselves with steroids, goo up their hair with gel, always seem to surround themselves with women of exceptional physical breeding potential.

However, this behaviour is distinctly "energy cast" as it requires a substructural base of enormous energy investment, and the women involved are equally susceptible to this, as they too exchange signifiers of breeding potential through rigourous dieting regimes, breast augmentation surgery, facial re-arrangement surgery, etc.

What this exposes is Nash's "going for the blonde" fallacy of goal accomplishment. By everyone "going for the hott blonde", the brunettes are pissed off, and most of the competitors get nothing. So, by NOT going for the blonde, everyone is made happy (or happier). Hence, as this all exists in a code of signifiers, these signifiers are then treated as re-presentations of actuality, so the "brunette" dyes her hair blonde, gets a boob job, a nose job, her teeth straightened and whitened, goes on crazy diet and exercise binge for a tight hourglass figure. She then exchanges these signifiers in the market of equal play, where the male roids up at the gym, gets some meaningless pseudo tribal tattoos, gets all the hair on his body removed, and then begins to acquire signifiers of luxury beyond normal means, such as an expensive car, or boat, assorted bling, etc.

The result is: bleethy dimwitted women chasing bulked out retarded douchebags.

That there is a website devoted to this is even more of a sign that there is way too much energy in that particular system...

"clearly one human life is worth more than the life of one lion"

Why would an alien say this?
Personaly I think the more humans there are on the planet the less a human life is worth. You know the economic fundamentals of supply and demand.

Whats the latin name for the dreambugs? They look so tasty Mmmm

"clearly one human life is worth more than the life of one lion"

Why would an alien say this?

You've gotta play the crowd you're talking to, clearly this wouldn't cut it on Kzin.

A reasonable formula for the value of an individual member of a species to the natural world itself, might be approximated by the species' total biomass divided by the number of extant individuals at a given time. Thus, if there are 20,000 lions and 7 billion humans, the loss of a lion has roughly commensurate value to the planet as the loss of 350,000 humans. Except that the value should properly be expressed as a positive for overshoot species and a negative for depleted ones.

I think in "The End of Nature", McKibben says that the weight of termites on the planet is more than humans. And ants as well. Not sure if this is true but I wouldn't doubt it.

One human life is probably worth more than one ant life (to most of us). But if NO ants were left, the planets ecosystem would collapse. Therefore at some point, the marginal ant is worth more than the marginal human, in theory. Where is the inflection point?


I think in "The End of Nature", McKibben says that the weight of termites on the planet is more than humans. And ants as well. Not sure if this is true but I wouldn't doubt it.

I'd guess that at this point, humans are giving both ants and termites a run for their money, biomass-wise, though it'll be a temporary edge only.

One human life is probably worth more than one ant life (to most of us). But if NO ants were left, the planets ecosystem would collapse. Therefore at some point, the marginal ant is worth more than the marginal human, in theory. Where is the inflection point?

Well, if avoiding planetary collapse is a good thing - probably quite arguable among sane aliens - a good case could be made that the aggregate value of all humans is marginal at best. Comparing the present-day earth with that of the pleistocene is a rather dramatic study of contrasts.

Environmentally, the question of exact inflection points is quite salient, and unknowable. As a discussion point, it comes down to whose criteria of importance are being used. The mynah birds living inside the high-voltage power poles in front of my house have a culture of stealing from one another and screaming about it. I once watched a two-hour drama in which they noisily battled over a tinfoil-backed chewing-gum wrapper, and in the melee a baby bird fell from one of the nests to splat on the blacktop below. In the end, that nest prevailed and captured the gum wrapper, but to any other species the possession in contention was clearly of only mynah importance.

Ed Wilson says that the biomass of ants & of humans are of the same order. He also says that if every human dropped dead immediately there'd be little environmental consequence besides the gradual recovery of biodiversity, but if every individual of every ant species suddenly became extinct, every terrestrial ecosystem outside the polar regions would be in freefall collapse within a week.

Thats where I read it. Thanks. (But I don't remember which of his books - I have them all, including that Sociobiology tome that I've never made it through. It would take me a year to read it - how he wrote it in a year boggles the mind...)

Drop a brick on an ant, drop a piano on a human. It's all the same in the end. Best from the Fremont

Hat tip, great laughs, sharing it with others etc. around what they liked the best was the iconics - graph, photo, and that drawing of the brain so absurdly typical... ;)

"The Ants," Wilson & Holldobler, 1990.

His latest book: "The Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies," again with Holldobler, I haven't seen yet but it should be good.

At last we hear from you, Commander. We have been circling this miserable solar system without new orders because our drive systems are lost. I have managed to dial up the microwave intensities on their sun as ordered. Their learned ones believe they are the cause of their own problems. We will be rid of them within a century.

I long for the days when I could put a lifeform out of their misery with a single proton blast. After 18 successful planetary vaporisings, this new strategy appears fruitless. This group uses chemical warfare on my brother aracnids. Please relay this intel with the Spider King and we'll soon see the end of this mollycoddling .

Our technicians have discovered that these beings are quite edible and some are considered tasty is there is a change in empire policy.

Your servant, Planetary Pest Marshall, Varga Klandi

Howdy y'all,

These are not the droids you're looking for!

I am struck by the similarity of the oil vs humans graph, and the borrow vs nonborrow graph of the us reserve bank as gets published in CR on occasion...

My question is, will the result be the same?

Hmmmmm. I guess well find out soon.

Now that I've read this post, am I condemned under General Order 7?

The post actually has nothing to do with Star Trek, but is a thought experiment of how an alien might view what is transpiring on earth.

Ever give advice to someone that you couldn't follow yourself? This is along the same lines. It's tough for us to follow our own advice, cuz we're sitting in our own mess..

The post - which I happen to think is brilliant - is presented with a nice edge of humor, and I've certainly responded in kind.

So saying, I think this is one of the most serious and salient pieces to appear on TOD, and I hope readers will also consider it that way. Anthropocentric delusionality is and should be the real elephant in the room, particularly now that we've knocked off the real ones.

O wad some pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us
An foolish notion:
What airs in dress an gait wad lea'es us,
An ev'n devotion!

Greenish thanks for a salient and pertinent poem.
How can we as a species respect other creatures and their habitats if we have scant regard for our own?
We can see (if we choose to do so) every day the exploitation, destruction, ravages and simply thoughtless behaviour of humans to other creatures there habitats and the environment.

There are numerous posts on TOD which show us the numbers. They show what we CAN do to keep the ball rolling.
How we can build billions of electric vehicles and power them, build thousands of nuclear reactors and supply fuel, build wind generators and maintain them. Some show what we CAN do to save the environment and ourselves.

We only need to look at the past to see the future. The past has a litany of waste and destruction to influence us. What is different now?
Showing what we CAN do has no meaning if human nature is not factored in. Expecting the best from the majority is pure folly.

Do we really expect the rich to do anything which ACTUALLY means they have to suffer or do without? Could we expect everyone to suffer equally or do we rationalize that and make the suffering relative to circumstances.
The point is, I expect we will only give up that which is forced upon us by circumstance. We will delude ourselves into thinking it's voluntary but of course the reality will be something else.

Can we expect ourselves and all nations to voluntarily reduce our carbon footprint by meaningful amounts? Do the rich nations with the biggest footprint act relatively or do we rationalize different ideals? I think we are experts at rhetoric and delusion.

I think that which we can do and that which we will do are vastly different concepts.
We are quite capable of acting like yeast in a Petri Dish.
Evil rant over.

Anthropocentric delusionality is and should be the real elephant in the room,

Sorry but this whole post IS a piece of anthropocentric delusionality poorly disguised as would be "wisdom".
Please think a bit more deeply about it...

I think the discount function humans use is zero for the next generation, infinite after that. In the above formulation the weighting parameter is d = 0 for x = 0,1,2..20 and d = ∞ for x = 21, 22... The annual discount weight (1 + d)^-x thus has value 1 til year 2028 and 0 subsequently.

Basically h. sapiens doesn't think much further ahead than their own remaining lifetime or that of their children and grandchildren. Tough biscuits for the great grandkids.

I have not been in this system ('solar' I believe is your word) a very long distance. We, the Incantations, have been only watching for a few millenia (is this a word for time?) the goings on of your life form. Oh, we watch the Talosians also as they too are minimally of interest to our learned ones, mostly boring because they have no sex or anything like it. We have found it of interest to note that your inhabitants have no learning in math or “Common cents” as our translation offers it---but great interest in sex!. At conception our forms know the meaning of exponential function and how it plays out. But here, on the green orb, no ones appears to grasp this meaning. Today woman unit in press had eighteen off spring. It is seen as blessing. Is there information I do not understand? Is your math different to ours and do you have scientific correlations? Is it coronations? Compositions? Me, I have trouble with language because of dependency on Talosian relationship and translation. Sorry (like regret) if I have offended. A Bar Tell Et

If I was Talosian I would tell Earthlings to

"Stop watching TV and spend more time reading and visiting with your neighbor."

I think h. sapiens think ahead much less than the value of their own lifetime actually, as seeing that if they all thought ahead to the end of their lifetime then they would likely ensure their offspring's survival. Because their offspring's lifetime is within that and their offspring would gain a foothold of influence over their own lives and ensure their offspring's survival and so on. Yet it seems the average h. sapien is far from ensuring their own survival much less their offspring's, look at Somolians who are starving to death who end up having children anyway. I doubt their innate genetic discount rate is much less than other homo sapiens, however it may vary among cultures due to meme-to-gene interactions. I would the argue that natural selective pressures among cultures will force the mean discount rate lower in the future. Although humans evolved steep discount rates for a reason which was to maximize their power. Those that have steeper discount rates might out-compete those with a more sustainable outlook as in someone who amasses a greater amount of power per unit time can call the shots over someone with a more sustainable rate. I think its kind of funny, that you can learn why people have steep discount rates by playing real time strategy video games. If you don't maximize your resource flows than another player will destroy you because they have more soldiers and bigger guns before you do which means, you get owned, competition is what drives the evolutionary factors behind steep discount rates.

To view your situation from a net energy perspective is superior to abstract economics, but sustainability of the strongest form would preclude any fossil fuel usage, unless to create regenerational infrastructures. The sum total of new energy schemes for your species should maximize for X(X1,X2...Xn), which in effect is producing the largest renewable output for the smallest fossil input. For interests of sustainability, to create diesel fuel from coal in this formula is only a stopgap measure, as all your fossil input does not create renewable flows. Once S is gone, X will equal the sum of all R1,R2...Rn. Put simply, you want to have the highest renewable energy return on your remaining fossil resources not used for basic needs. However, before you do this in earnest, we 'recommend' that you examine your end goals first - this will prevent 10 earth years and 300 billion barrels of oil burned attempting to create the same ends you now aspire to, before discovering the dead end.

I believe a real question is there a renewable energy processes that can direct renewable energy flows into renewable energy infrastructure at all levels. If so, this process would simply act like a seed or plant, growing from its stored energy or endosperm, and this process would grow at a rate equal to the amount of energy output directed back into energy input * efficiency of the process, with at some level, decay of infrastructure coming into the equation. The real question is how large do the renewable flows need to be to become self sustaining, assuming they can operate at a surplus or positive broad boundary EROI? What is this minimum level and how much larger would the flows need to be within a reasonable risk range for negative geopolitical influences?

Hello Nate,

I see that comments are closed on the six-part series on EROI, but Charlie and I have been discussing an important point that needs to be entered in the TOD record. I am waiting for Charlie to answer my last letter; but, in the meantime, I would like to post my important results.

The revised version of my original post can be found at . Charlie thought that if the EROI was 2.0 one could support the rest of the community on the excess, therefore it was not necessary to report the energy costs of living for the participants in the production process, especially those who participated indirectly. Here is my answer assuming that you have read the above link, which is very short:

Charlie et al.,

First of all please remember that, in the autonomous alternative energy district, there are precisely as many doctors as are needed to service the energy workers and the people who service them. Of course, the energy people and those whose services they employ can live without healthcare; but, if they do get health care, the cost of providing it will be passed on to the users of energy. Think, for a moment only, of the cash flow. The power company must charge enough for power that the cost of the workers health care can be paid from the cash distributions to the energy workers. It is no different for the energy flow, except that energy costs are not subject to the whims of central banks and other inflationary and deflationary pressures. Why should you expect that ancillary costs like profit taking, health care, etc. not to be passed on to the consumer? Every cash transaction in an economy has energy consequences. That is why the E/GDP ratios for every country and every year are tabulated by the DOE. Will someone please read the exposition on this in "Energy in a Mark II Economy" at and ?


Tom Wayburn, Houston, Texas

Our other purpose is less benign, but cannot be spoken of.

Isn't anyone else curious about their other purpose? ;-)

Their women all died out. We have 3.4 billion women. What do you think their other purpose is?


Even Talosians are so prone to the vagaries of impatience that rather than invest a few more minutes of effort they slipped from a language that virtually all persons can easily access (standard English) into one that only a tiny fraction can even tolerate for more than a few seconds: symbolic mathematics.

Too bad. I was actually enjoying the reading experience until my neo-cortex was blasted into an adjacent universe by a merciless blast of something I can only describe as neural agony.

So, you think that "U=Bt + (Bt+1)/(1+d) + (Bt+2)/(1+d)^2 + .... (Bt+x)/(1+d)^x)" do you?

Well try this on for size, puny earthling : D= Bx (34>< *n+gh/^% X ( o<58> !!!

Here is another "offworld" perspective on a similar topic:

"Why inefficient? When you have our problem of overpopulation, you must build large cities to house all the people. We cannot afford the luxury of large areas of woodland as you can."

"What do you call overpopulation?"

"Our small country has more than three hundred people to the square kilometer, which in my opinion is quite dense."

"Compared to Earth's average of twenty-five to the square kilometer, that is indeed dense. Estimate the number of people living in the area that you see here. Every ring houses about ten thousand. Work it out per rectangle."

"Ten thousand per ring?"

"Yes, and we have more square meters per person than you have."

I did a quick calculation. Each rectangle contained thirty-six rings, so thirty-six times ten thousand is . . . heavens! Three hundred and sixty thousand! I hadn't expected that. It made each rectangle a complete city! But, then, it was also a lot of land. "How long is the rectangle?"

"Roughly ten kilometers."

I judged that the width must then be in the region of six kilometers, so that an area was then sixty square kilometers and therefore my solution must be 600 people per square kilometer. "I was certainly mistaken about your population - 600 per square kilometer. That's double ours. I was under the impression that it was much less. When I see the space that you have left, I must admit that it is a very clever solution."

"Your answer amuses Us because you have made a small mistake. You have the decimal point in the wrong place."

I calculated again and came to the ridiculous total of six thousand. "It can't be six thousand."

"It is, Stef. What you see here houses a population of six thousand people to the square kilometer."

"But that's ridiculous. How can you do it? That's twenty times as many as our overpopulated land."

"Your word 'overpopulation' is pure nonsense. Our planet has a population density at least one hundred times greater than yours and we do not speak of overpopulation."

I began to feel uneasy, that was madness. I knew it. I should never have started this conversation. It was leading nowhere. I stared with new interest at the picture in front of me and tried to calculate the living space of these people. Strange as it may seem, there were no signs of overpopulation. On the contrary, there was room enough, round the cylinders, and the roads that ran through the woodland areas were in no way obstructed with people or traffic. "This is so incomparable with anything that we know that I am at a loss for words."

A fun read, despite the anthropocentrism & bad biology (tarsiers aren't ancestral to apes). The pop-neurology I could do without altogether.

There is some evidence that humans and tarsiers have common prosimian ancestors - the Haplorhini suborder contains tarsiers, monkeys, apes and humans (though I agree with you that humans are apes, in the broadest sense.

Regarding anthropocentrisms and pop neurology - give it a break - clearly this was a story meant to generate discussion and thought, not enter peer review. But I forgot - you are looking forward to fire and brimstone....

I agree with you that humans are apes, in the broadest sense

In the strictest sense as well. Super-family Hominoidea

...we humans are great apes—the fifth great ape species, along with orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos.

I find the socio-neurological discourse to be valuable at understanding the motivations of our fellow citizens. Introspection shouldn't be avoided.

There is some evidence that humans and tarsiers have common prosimian ancestors

No question but what apes & tarsiers have a common ancestor. My point was merely that tarsiers aren't ancestral to apes. Indeed, extant tarsiers are every bit as derived from the common ancestor as extant apes are.

Regarding anthropocentrisms and pop neurology - give it a break - clearly this was a story meant to generate discussion and thought, not enter peer review.

Point taken. You're right.

But I forgot - you are looking forward to fire and brimstone....

I pass no normative judgment on future outcomes. Whatever happens, happens.