UK's Guardian: Are Capitalism and a Habitable Planet Mutually Exclusive?

(hat tip: Energy Bulletin)

Robert Newman writes in UK's Guardian:

Our economic system is unsustainable by its very nature. The only response to climate chaos and peak oil is major social change.

There is no meaningful response to climate change without massive social change. A cap on this and a quota on the other won't do it. Tinker at the edges as we may, we cannot sustain earth's life-support systems within the present economic system.

There's much more of an argument in the article, but this was rather my point a long time ago about the governance of the commons: with scarce resources, a society either needs to find another scarce resource to compensate, a way of creating/enforcing/reinforcing tribal/cultural norms that encourage people do not hoard more than their "share" of resources, or you need a central government/public sector that controls resource allocation.
Good luck with retooling, reorganizing and reshaping withouth using capitalism as a tool to get things done.

It is stupid to not build on the orders and organizations that already exist and has been proven to be good at listening to what people want and indeed to use peoples greed to get things done.

Finding a whole new order for our society adds numerous new ways to fail and a lot of them were tried and failed during the 1900:s.

This thread will probably end up being purely political.

I think capitalism will play a role, because that's the tool we have, especially in the American case...but the author makes some points that need to be discussed.

it probably will get political Magnus, but what the heck.  I'd like to hear intelligent people debate this intelligently, even if they do disagree.

Truthfully, I think there's ways around all of these things, but they demand effort, creativity, and the creation of options through those two concepts I just mentioned...

These only happen when society presses for change...which is the author's main point.  But what kind of social change?  What do we want it to look like?  How do we get there?  Is it only through government?  Are there other options...?

Jared Diamond touches on this in Collapse.  He says either "grassroots" or a strong central government works.  The size of the society determines which method works.  "Grassroots" works only in very small societies.  Basically, they must be small enough that everyone can understand all the problems they face.  And small enough that everyone has a "stake" in the preserving the commons.  

Larger societies need central control.  Perhaps a king whose advisors can keep tabs on the entire kingdom, so he can see the big picture even though his subjects cannot.  The king derives his wealth from the entire kingdom, and wants his heirs to do the same, so it's in his interest to protect the whole kingdom.  

Neither system works for middle-sized societies (and possibly large societies with weak central control).  If the society is not large enough to support a central government, but too large for everyone to have a stake in everything, it collapses in internecine fighting.    

It's worrying, because it suggests there might be some issues with democracy as a method of government.  An elected leader may not have the same incentive to protect the entire nation that a king has, since his time in office is limited.  In theory, that might encourage looting the nation while you can. In practice, we've seen it happen exactly that way, time and again.  

And with our level of technology, the "society" must be global if we hope to protect the commons.  Limiting our emissions will do little good if China decides to burn all the cheap coal they can get ahold of.  A nuclear war that breaks out in the Middle East could rain radiation on the entire world, or worse.

I think Newman is right.  Capitalism is a great system for quickly exploiting natural resources, but it won't work in resource-limited world.

Damned if I know what will, though.

Perhaps there also is an optimum size for the centrally controlled societies?

In a very large one the king or other ruler can isolate themselves from most  of the country. Democratically replaced leaders have to retire somewhere and who would want to do that as a refugee? It would be quite boring for them in a small enclave surrounded by people who hate them. This means that you do not want to have jet set party in any mega city people as your leaders...

The level above this is tricky. EU is one try for a continent wide solution for this problem. A good start is to see to that everything is owned by some country and that countries gang up on those who relese polutant into other countries seas etc.

I think capitalism also can exploit change and leftover resources like assets from bankrupt companies.

You know what? There were social organizations BEFORE oil. Before the industrial revolution.


Go figure.

This is not a hard thing. The economic system of a country can be separate from the political system.

So quit conflating dictatorship with any other system than capitalism.

I would like to point out that there have been systems of economic organization other than capitalism that worked just fine. The anarchists of Andalusia come to mind. It is unfortunate that the people in this forum are ignorant of history. (Please don't start in with how you know all about the history of communism or some such nonsense.) People educated in the US school system seem to believe that there was no human history before television was invented. So sad.

So, anyone who is not aware of the blindingly obvious example of the anarchists of Andalusia as a model for economic organizations other than capitalism is ignorant of history?
I'm not conflating dictatorship with systems other than capitalism.  I was merely using some examples from a well-known book that many peak oilers have read.  

My point is that we are in a situation no society has been in before, due to the power of our technology.  Certainly, people have died due to the ecological mistakes of other societies before (as Diamond points out with regard to Pitcairn and Henderson Islands).  But we're at a whole new level now.  We cannot just ignore what China or Russia or Israel or Iran decide to do, because what they do could end up exterminating us all.

Should the US be added to the list?
Absolutely.  I did not mean to blame any of the countries I named in particular.  With issues like global warming, we all contribute.  The U.S. more than most, no doubt.
ah, but Leanan, (just be Lucifer's advocate) how much food, technology, etc., does the US produce relative to the rest of the world?
I don't think it matters.  If, say, Dr. Goodstein's worst-case scenario happens, and we tip the world climate into a state "incompatible with life," will anyone care what we did to produce those emissions?  Building nuclear missiles, growing food, driving SUVs, or mass barbecuing at tailgating parties - does it matter?
White nationalist ecofascism?
Quite possibly.  Though not necessarily "eco."  As Stirling Newberry points out, WWII was part of the last energy system transition we suffered.  Moving to oil was difficult.  Moving from it will be worse.  
Before delving into alternative social systems that might carry the answer, don't you want to add other parameters such as how equal you require people to be, and how happy you want them to be?
bingo...I was hoping someone would jump on that.  do continue...
Capitalism allows the tails of the wealth distribution to be very wide (lots of poor people, lots of billionaires). Because of our relative fitness algorithms, we will on average be happier with less, if others have less and there are no ostentatious rich people in our midst. I don't think our genes will ever allow for total equality, but a lower GINI index for a society must be healthier, at least on a full planet. China has double and then some its per capita income in past decade, yet according to, there are not as many happy people (because there are now more billionaires they have to look to as 'role models".

There was a Harvard test showing that Harvard undergrads on average would prefer to make $75,000 per year when all their peers were making $50,000 than make $100,000/yr when all their peers were making $200,000/yr. Its all a relative game. On a full planet reaching resource constraints, we are all chasing the modern cultures goals and lead runners in the pack - Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Richard Branson, etc. In my opinion, we need to a) through policy or social change, shrink the tails of the wealth distribution, and b) make things that are sustainable for the planet be the goals that make us 'fitter' than the next guy. If women thought organic farmers living off the grid and growing/canning all their own food were 'hot' and were turned off by profligate spenders who were mortgaging the planets future, then social change would follow

I wont lay the responsibility all on the women of course, but they sure have power....

Thank you - I'll take Door #1 - let people find a new resource.

Calls for central control are really a thinly disguised excuse for dictatorship, usually by those calling for the control.

History shows that once you give up control to a central group, they expand that control and abuse it for their own betterment.  Were you asleep during the 20th Century?

Capitalism is really the ecology of economics - a lot of individual experiments and adjustments.  Some work and prosper and some fail and die off.  Economic biology, if you will.

This is one major problem with both global warming and peak oil - leftists seize on valid topics of concern to push their own authoritarianship.  Some of the commenters here are more interested in their ideology than in human welfare.  Most of the public is deeply suspicious and is on to the leftists' hidden agenda.

Seeking power through fear is demagoguery.

I am scared, should I then refrain from using that feling?
Which choise makes me a better demagouge?

Which one gives the least risk that some one else with worse implementation ideas takes my ideas and run with them?  Ok, scaring people might be a very bad idea.

The main problem with capitalism is that corporations have little responsibility.  That is the whole point of incorporating, really.  You have all the rights of an individual, but few of the responsibilities.  So you dump your toxic waste in people's drinking water, and when the courts order you to clean it up, you declare bankruptcy. Launder, rinse, repeat.  
Corporations are products of the Government.
Corporations would not exist in a true "free market" society.
This is one major problem with both global warming and peak oil - leftists seize on valid topics of concern to push their own authoritarianship.

I'd say that rightists are doing that to a much larger extent these days...

Most of the public is deeply suspicious and is on to the lftists' hidden agenda

I am very disappointed that the public (in the USA) has not become more suspicious as yet of the rightists' not-so-hidden agenda: destroying the middle class and bankrupting the government, leaving only a military police state to protect the privileges of the rich from the poor.

Some of the commenters here are more interested in their ideology than in human welfare.

I think that happens on all sides, and is how "normative" issues enter the debate here.  After all we here on TOD are pretty much in agreement on the "empirical" side, that oil will peak, and fairly soon.

Whitehall's misunderstanding of the argument and his or her kneejerk reaction is why I believe that capitalism will be the primary driver in the quest to destroy the planet. People who believe that what political team they are on is more important than creating a workable economy in a solar driven world are the people who will do everything they can to thwart reasoned argument and the development of a sensible plan.

I, for one, am hopeful that we will recognize that letting the greedheads who are currently ruining the country and the planet develop our Plan B is precisely the wrong path. We need to recognize the inherently flawed system that infinite growth through free market capitalism represents. It should be obvious to anyone who believes that we live on a sphere that there is a limit to growth -- gee, where have we heard that before?
Club of Rome, maybe?

All of my arguments to this point have been formulated around the simple premise that we live on a planet that has limits. Our economy is based on growth. If we continue to grow, or hell even stay steady, we are dooming the species to a painful crash.

Please look to Cuba for examples of what we can do to survive. Please consider alternative governments based on local production and FULL democracy as advocated on many post carbon sites. Do not let your ideological blinders prevent you from saving the planet.

Continuing the business as usual paradigm that relies on the latest new tech to drive our economy, to fix what tech broke in the first place, and to give false hope that we can somehow keep growing if the tech is cool enough, is the exact wrong path. It is the path to our species' destruction.

Competition is a fundamental biological concern.  Competition will occur whether you wish it or not.

Let's pit your "workable economy in a solar driven world" against one based on petroleum, natural gas, coal, or nuclear.  Your solar economy, really just substantance agriculture at best, will be overrun by those with more disposable energy.  How many people would chose to live in Castro's Cuba?

Cuba will change rapidly with the death of Castro.

I certainly agree with the notion that the planet has limits.  People will adjust without your dubious commands.

cooperation is just as fundamental a biological concern.  especially within a species, cooperation is often more key to survival than competition.  the British Darwinists would never admit this, but you can find the other side of aisle in Peter Kropotkin's Mutual Aid.  
Most of the public is deeply suspicious and is on to the leftists' hidden agenda.

Do you have any evidence for this statement? Can you point to any poll data on the public's perception of the "leftists" and their "hidden agenda".

Whitehall is just trying to get a rise out of folks.

Neither agenda is hidden, they both want their peons to be dumb, so they can just worry about "ruling us".  And the media plays right along.  Keeping people as un-informed as possible.  Just think how clueless we would be without the internet?

Most of the public is deeply suspicious of any agenda - be it right left or centre. And rightly so.

With the mess the Neo-cons have made of Iraq and the Middle East generally, and with the Enron top dogs on trial, the rightist agenda doesn't look too flash either.

The problem of any control mechanism to preserve the environment, or anything else, in that it leads inevitably to corruption. QUIS CUSTODIET IPSES CUSTODIES?

Maybe we have to acceot it as an inevitable price.

Oh, wait....we have that now!  In the US of A, at least.

Hey, look over there, a terrorist!  Nah, just kidding.
Now give me some more power, or a few more of your rights to I can keep you safe.

Humans, as a species, have never been faced with planet altering events on the horizon - there have been wars, famines, pestilence, droughts, etc in locales or regions, but nothing on a planetary scale. If you follow the anthropology books, what became modern humans split off from chimps 5.5 million years ago. At 20 years per generation, that is 275,000 generations of humans caring about putting food on the table, choosing the best mate, and garnering the most resources for their offspring.

Our 'discount rates', or how much we value the present moment over the future, are therefore genetically very steep - long range thinkers were outproduced by those in power who grabbed resources while they were available (like Niall of Nine Hostages. (Animals discount rates are infinitely steep - ALL they care about is the present - ours are slightly less steep perhaps due to the sunk cost of our infrastructure.)

In any case, a world where we 'cognitively' recognize that global warming and peak oil 'might' have a negative impact on our lives, our neocortex thoughts are trumped by the deeper drives in the limbic and reptilian systems of our mind for immediate wants. Furthermore, the zen master of the neurotransmitters which regulates discount rates, serotonin, is massively suppressed in a society where ubiquitous offerings of sugar, alcohol and caffeine create chronic maladaptive 'wants' that can never be satisfied. (I am trying to live without sugar, and while difficult I find I can access my longer term thinking without pressing needs or anxiety better than before - sample size of one but I think Im on to something...)

Bottom line - for us to care about the 'possibility' of societal/individual collapse, we need to either a) reduce our genetically derived steep discount rates or b)increase the perceived 'present-value' impact of potential disastrous events to activate our impulses to fend for the moment. DDT, ozone depletion, leaded gas, all were examples where the public was concerned about immediate negative quality to their lives - global warming and peak oil are presently too far away. 3 degrees Celsius higher by 2050. Pass me another beer - let me show you my new condo...

Alas, a cold winter might have done it.....

Do you have a link for the relationship between serotonin and discount rates? That's extremely interesting if true...
Stuart you hit the nail on the head. There is no formal research on that particular link which is why its central to my phd thesis. But there is alot of literature on drug addiction (arguably brought on by lower serotonin) and discount rates.  Essentially, addicted people have steeper discount rates, are more impulsive, and live more for the moment.

I will point out that our esteemed President pre-SOTU press release read: "President to say Americans are addicted to oil..."

As you know, I believe one can approach the Peak Oil problem facing humanity in 4 quadrants:

  1. Supply problem - Hubberts curve, nat gas infrastructure, dwindling carbon-sink capacity etc
  2. Demand problem - human relative fitness algorithm, population, third world growth, Malthus, etc
  3. Supply solution: nuclear, renewable fuels,technology, EOR,etc
  4. Demand solutions: efficiency, government rationing (IEA rules), community living, new paradigms, well-being with less...

It is the fourth quadrant that I am most interested in (and as it relates to Quad 2). There is plenty of research on discount rates and behavior, but not so much on the origins of steep discount rates or ways to make them less steep. Here are some readings to get you started:
Impulsivity and Substance Abuse

Heroin addicts have steeper discount rates

steep discount rates correlate negatively with grades Duh. If one needs to smoke pot, play video games, or eat chocolate, studying might be a bit tough.

mild-opiod deprivation STEEPENS discount rates

At issue here is if we are addicted (through genetic wiring which is maladaptive in an environment of energy-a-plenty) to oil or to the things oil gives us, then simply telling people to conserve wont work too well.

that sounds of luck with it.

 7 Brutality and cruelty to children can cause changes to their brain chemistry, 8 altering the levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin. Romanian orphans who experienced profound overcrowding and deprivation of adult touch and holding exhibited changes strikingly similar to those observed in baby monkeys removed from their mothers after birth and reared without parental care. Growth is stunted and social behavior profoundly disturbed.

Founding member of the "ecologist" magazine, Jean Liedloff wrote a brilliant book in 1975 about  her experiences with "yequana" tribe of venezuela, She wandered why they seemed happy most of the time.

After some years living with them she wrote "the continuum concept" which has helped shape modern thought on rearing infants.

As a monkey when we are born we expect to be held and fed nothing else for the first six months, babies scream for this until they give up, infants who do not recieve ANY touch will have serious problems when they grow up.

society has known about this link for a long time, seperate the babies from their mothers (cots/prams/work) and they will grow up to be insecure, always wanting, never knowing for what, many addictions spring from this.

back to the thread

I think Rob Newman is spot on

I think your are 100% correct to focus on the importance of evolutionary biology in general and evolutionary psychology in particular. For millions of years, more has been better: more food to eat, more wives and babies, more power, higher status, more territory for the clan or tribe.

But nothing fails like success. Techonological advances such as the spear thrower and the bow and arrow allowed more meat to be obtained and population to increase, but over the generations the amount of game that can be captured decreases and people are forced into horticulture because the hunting and gathering existence no longer produces the life of relative ease and prosperity described by anthropologist Marshall Sahlins. With horticulture, economic surplus can be accumulated, and that leads to social stratification, cities, slavery, writing, etc. But agriculture (with plow and draft animals) produces a bigger economic surplus than does horticulture, and hence agricultural societies become bigger, become nation states with military forces that can and do and destroy earlier types of societies. With industry and capitalism economic growth takes off bigtime, feeding on fossil fuels, and industrial societies can usually conquer agricultural ones (North Vietnam is an interesting exception for reasons we should study with care.)

In my opinion, John Maynard Keynes said it best in his famous 1930 essay, "Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren." He recognized capitalism and economic growth as TEMPORARY phases that were needed to solve the economic problem of scarcity. Famously, he said that in the absence of war or big increases in population, the economic problem could be solved (or in sight of solution) by the year 2030, with only a real per capita rate of economic growth of 2% per year. (Note that he recognized that this optimistic forecast applied only to what he called "progressive" and are now called "developed" societies.)

Keynes looked forward to a time when economists would be humble people, like dentists, to whom we would go periodically for checkups and minor repairs, but with the economic problem solved, they would have no more importance than dentists and there would be no reason why they should have the huge weight they do now, where every political madman seems to be the disciple of some defunct scribbler. (The last words are a paraphrase of Keynes.)

Last thought on Keynes: He thought, "Most goods should be homespun." Why? Because comparative advantage diminishes in industrial (and even more in post-industrial society). Ricardo's example and thinking were based on facts of agricultural societies, where differences in soil and lattitude and rainfall really do introduce huge comparative advantages. Few economists are even aware that Keynes held this opinion, because (at least in my experience) few economists have done their homework of studying the great economists of the past--men and women who had far more good ideas than are generally recognized. Who reads Joan Robinson anymore? Who is seriously reading Max Weber or Josehph Schumpeter now in economics departments? How many graduate students in economics departments are now required to read and understand the whole "Wealth of Nations"?

Sorry, enough venting for this morning.

I missed this in my first pass.  I think (after reading "The Winner's Curse", "Guns, Germs & Steel", "The Blank Slate" and and a few others) I'm on the same page.

The problem with organizing a broad population response in situations like this is that sometimes a minority of "skeptics" can be spoilers on the response.  Think of the guys who violate fish and game laws to get their trophies.

"skeptics" being a catch-all prhase of course for what may be an entirely non-cognative decision process.

Add "Descarte's Error" as another general reader book on this subject.  Also (as a lighter read) "The Red Queen."
"I am trying to live without sugar. . ."

Try fasting every other day.

sr - that sounds a little radical, though I think fasting is probably a good idea.
Slightly off topic (BUT THEN AGAIN MAYBE NOT!), I have recently been researching Dr Robert Young's (great grandson of Brigham Young) diet and health philosophy of maintaining blood pH levels - His book "The pH Miracle - Balance Your Diet-Reclaim Your Health" along with other research finally allowed me connect the dots.

The dots are:

  1. we seek a brain chemical mix in our current society that met with evolutionary success for our ancestors (hence they are our ancestors)
  2. much of what we seek is attained or not so, through the food and drink we choose (leaving aside social hierarchy, reciprocal altruism and other subroutines for now)
  3. 99% of the options given us in the grocery stores, restaurants, parties, dinners etc are provided not for our nutrition but for convenience and someone elses profit.
  4. given 3) we can't assume that the smorgasbord of grocery store options are whats really best for us, and in fact, the sugar, carbohydrates, alcohol, caffeine, all end up making our bodies produce less serotonin as well as open them up to countless other health issues
  5. Industrial society, particularly U.S., is eating/drinking/starbuxing our way to steeper discount rates - just when Peak Oil and global warming require us to consider the future more profoundly, we are actually moving (collectively) in the other direction, valuing the present even more...
I expect that some here will define "capitalism" as the private ownership of the means of production, or something like that.  But the destructive impact of capitalism comes from two other aspects:  (1) no limits on the concentration of wealth, and (2) a social and financial system that depends on endless exponential "growth".  Item (2) was also shared by communism.  Since nothing can grow exponentially for more than a short time in a finite world (a few decades, assuming a growth rate that is meaningful to the growth-based belief, several percent per year), we are now hitting the limits in many ways - oil only being one of them.  But attribute (1) has been made socially acceptable based on (2): if the rich get richer, that wasn't supposed to deny the poor the chance to improve their lot.  Alas, with finite resources, the whole thing is slowly being exposed as the pyramid scheme that it is.

So what's to replace capitalism?  Knee-jerk capitalists like to claim that the only alternative is communism, and that has been tried and failed.  But capitalism is failing too, and there are more than those two choices.

What we need is a steady-state economy.  Indeed, that is the only economy that can be called "sustainable".  Read the books of Herman Daly.  There is at least one chapter of one of his books on the web: - but that is a debunking of the growth fallacy, not a good explanation of the steady-state one.  In the books he explains why it's inevitable, how it can work, how it widely incorporates a market mechanism - but with some restrictions, and how it differs from a failed (non-growing) growth economy.  The essential elements of making it work, he says, include stopping population growth, limiting income inequity, and rationing the scarcest essential resources.  

Good points.  Those are both issues that don't matter that much when the economy is growing.  In a shrinking economy, it's a different story.

The essence of capitalism, to me, is, well, capitalists.  People who support themselves by investing - lending money.  When the economy isn't growing, who will want to make loans?  There's a reason why the ancient world considered usury a crime.  No one borrowed money unless they were in desperate straits, because it was so difficult to pay back.  Tacking interest on was seen as grossly exploitative.  And earning money without producing anything was frowned upon, because ancient societies really couldn't afford to support a lot of people who weren't producing food, clothing, or other necessities.

I'm reminded of Kiyosaki's "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" books.  He often says he wants to teach everyone to be rich.  He also says that rich people don't work.  Instead, they invest.  But if we all don't work and just invest...well, that's not likely to work very well.  

Private property and selling for a profit are not particularly capitalist.  People own and sell things in feudal societies, after all.  Islam specifically forbids charging interest on a loan, but allows commerce.  

Capitalism involves a wide range of practices. Can one of the anti-capitalists here (assuming there is one) describe which practices will have to be eliminated? Will we be allowed to have money in the future? How about private property? Can I buy something, and sell it to somebody else for a profit, or will that be a crime? How about stock exchanges, bond markets, banks etc.? Will they also be criminalized? Can I start a business? Will international trade be forbidden?

If we're going to get rid of capitalism, we're going to have to replace it with something. So what's the alternative? Socialism? China is socialist and they don't seem particularly environmentally-friendly. The USSR was communist, and it sucked down resources and polluted with the best of them. So what's the "new system"? Can somebody even give me a ballpark idea of what were going to morph into? Tribal villages? Hunter/Gatherers? North Korean style "self-reliance" (juche)? Unless the anti-capitalists can produce a credible alternative, this whole line of thinking is just navel-gazing.

I have an open mind, but it seems to me that there is no viable alternative to capitalism.

I suggest that you, JD, look up the definition of capitalism. It has little to do with selling or trading with your neighbors. It has little to do with producing a product and then trading it for a product that someone else wants. That happens in virtually every political/economic system on the planet. Simple local exchanges are usually exchanges of actual value. It is when value is abstracted that you get into the realm of capitalism. Money based on a valuable tangible such as gold or salt or silver or food products is much different than the fiat system we now have.

No matter how we decide to manage the solar economy, I can guarantee you it will not be based on our current energy subsidized system. Remember when the Soviet Union collapsed? Have any idea what happened when the Cubans found themselves suddenly without 80% of their cheap fossil fuel? They changed. Not into YOUR idea of a perfect society I'm sure, but they did change and they adapted. Who would be a more successful society? A Cuba that survives and now even thrives using permaculture and mass transit, but which has an oppressive government? Or a capitalist democracy that lets the infinite growth fantasy cause the death of most of its population or the population of other countries from whom we steal oil and which has an oppressive government?

You can always change governments, you cannot change physics.

Money based on a valuable tangible such as gold or salt or silver or food products is much different than the fiat system we now have.

That's for sure. It's a lot more irrational and inconvenient. A mined form of money which weighs a lot is probably the last thing we need in an energy-constrained future.

I'm open to ideas about new monetary/economic systems, but going back to barter or a commodity-money system is just silly. Those systems were superceded for very good, practical reasons. Abstract money itself was invented by goldsmiths and early banks, and if we returned to gold, they would do it all over again, for exactly the same reasons. Abstract systems of money evolve from practical needs and human nature, and you can't really change either of those. Your viewpoint is similar to saying we need to eliminate abstract thinking, like mathematics.

With regard to Cuba: Are you suggesting that oppressive government is the way to go? Although it's not exactly right, there's a lot of truth in the equation Freedom=Capitalism. Honestly, do you see some way of simultaneously:
 1) Letting people do what they like in their economic life, with minimal intrusion by the government, AND
 2) Reducing consumption, while halting economic growth?
It seems impossible to me. Which is why people suspect folks like yourself of having authoritarian tendencies. Seriously, can you see some way of reaching your goals (saving the planet?) while maintaining human freedom? Give me a rough sketch.

So, is it basically accurate to summarize your viewpoint as the following: maybe it's true that capitalism is destroying all of our resources, but since capitalism is the only system that appears to protect our freedoms, well, then it looks like we're just going to have to destroy our resources?

As far as I can tell, you never disagreed with the claim that capitalism is destroying our resources, although you did rightfully note that socialist or communist countries like China and Russia don't seem to have a better track record. Do you think that resource depletion is then inevitable?

For the record, I have no idea what a better alternative system to capitalism is, but I'm worried about any system that thrives on resource depletion. Capitalism included.

I'm opposed to non-democratic government, regardless of the rationale used to justify it. Period. Even if authoritarian government is (allegedly) the only way to "save the earth", I'm still opposed to it.

Rationing out the dwindling resources in the "petri dish" is only one of the options. I find that unattractive because the endpoint of that path is the eventual extinction of the human species.

The other long-range alternative is to harvest energy and other resources from space. If we proceed that way, we can continue to grow, and increase people's freedoms and wealth rather than take them away. Until that path has been conclusively proven to be impossible, I think it's premature to talk about how we're going to halt growth and wind up the show. Think outside the petri dish!

I don't know if the factoids presented on this page are conclusive or not. However, you might want to ponder for awhile what it took to go and get a few pounds of rocks from the moon. I would direct your attention in particular to the quantities of high-density liquid energy consumed.

Damn, we were profligate then, but oh boy was it an awesome sight! And the acoustic effects were almost beyond belief. Try to imagine standing 10 miles away watching the wire in your screen door resonate with the acoustic waves.

JD:  You write that you are opposed to non-democratic government.  There are those that would claim that our government is considerably non-democratic at this time.  It takes money to get elected, and those with wealth are able to get favorable laws enacted.

Also, there are those that would claim that our government is authoritarian and they are deprived of some freedoms.  Examples are taxes again, and drug laws.

So would you say that you are opposed to our government?

So would you say that you are opposed to our government?

No. Granted, it has its problems, and there is some erosion around the edges, but on the whole it works quite well, and is responsive to the public. If we're going to put governments on an authoritarian scale (from 1 to 10), I'd  give first world democracies today a 1, as compared to say an 8 for the USSR in Stalinist times. I'm certainly not going to agree with the idea that the U.S. today is no different from Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany in terms of authoritarianism. That sort of muddled thinking is itself an invitation to authoritarianism. After all, if there's no difference between Stalinism and today's U.S., then we might as well bring Stalin back and let him run the U.S. just like he ran the USSR. According to your moral equivocation, we wouldn't even notice the difference.

As for taxes and drug laws: They were instituted by democratically elected legislators. They can be repealed at any time by electing legislators who oppose them. Those policies remain in place because a majority of the population supports them.

The factional coalitions that support the governments include antidrugaddict factions. A political realignment might eliminate the drug laws overnight. Don't know.
With regard to Cuba: Are you suggesting that oppressive government is the way to go? Although it's not exactly right, there's a lot of truth in the equation Freedom=Capitalism. Honestly, do you see some way of simultaneously:
 1) Letting people do what they like in their economic life, with minimal intrusion by the government, AND
 2) Reducing consumption, while halting economic growth?
It seems impossible to me. Which is why people suspect folks like yourself of having authoritarian tendencies. Seriously, can you see some way of reaching your goals (saving the planet?) while maintaining human freedom? Give me a rough sketch.

Am I suggesting an authoritarian government? Far, far from it. I'm actually suggesting we already live under an oppressive government. Just look up fascism. Hell, I'll do it for you. I'll even check off the elements that fit the good ole US of A.

  1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism - Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays. Check

  2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights - Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need." The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc. Check

  3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause - The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial , ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc. Check

  4. Supremacy of the Military - Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized. Check

  5. Rampant Sexism - The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution. Check

  6. Controlled Mass Media - Sometimes the media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common. Check

  7. Obsession with National Security - Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses. Patriot Act, Eavesdropping - Check

  8. Religion and Government are Intertwined - Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government's policies or actions. Check

  9. Corporate Power is Protected - The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite. Double Check

  10. Labor Power is Suppressed - Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed. Check

  11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts - Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked. Check

  12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment - Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations. Check

  13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption - Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders. Abramhoff, Halliburton, Enron etc. Check Check Check

  14. Fraudulent Elections - Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections. A great big CHECK here.

As to the rough sketch ----- I suggest that everyone check out the various web sites who devote themselves to researching appropriate social, economic, and political institutions designed to operate post carbon.

I recommend The Post Carbon Institute.

For further reading about the list above go to Project for the Old American Century.

   100 check marks for you on summarizing a proof that USA already is a Right-winged facist state --and the people who live here do not even know it.

   You forgot to mention use of propaganda TV and movies for convincing people that being ignorant, stupid and obedient is "good" while resort to deep thought, Learning (e.g., history, geography, science, etc.) and analysis leads to Leanings of the Leftist, Liberal, Looney, professotorial kind that will leave you "marginalized" from society as the wild haired, absent-minded professor (not you, so-Socratic-method Goose :-)  

   Maybe it is the facist state itself which seeks to supress knowledge about peak oil? --but we go off topic with that thought. So let's return to deep thought about "capitalism" (whatever the heck that abstrationism means) versus "sustainalism"

As for me, I wholy beleive that I "own" the real estate that constitutes my back yard. As a good capitalist, I am commencing to build an out-of-code nuclear reactor in MY back yard, and I think I'll use a black-smoke belching coal-fired boiler for auxilliary power as well as diverting the local stream that happens to pass through MY back yard to serve MY cooling towers. After all, in a capitalist society (an "ownership society"), I can do as I damn please with MY property. (Tongue is, of course, tucked deep into MY cheek.)

I am not convinced that capitalism = freedom.  When commercial interests become too dominant and as they coalesce into larger and larger power units, they begin to throttle freedom.  By freedom, I mean the market place of ideas, political and scientific, and religious.  When each of these areas is used to promote commercial interests--and that is slowly happening in the states--then capitalism becomes anathema to freedom and democracy.  In fact, if any these general areas of endeavor becomes prominent and uses the others towards its own ends, real freedom fails.

Couple of instances: Google in China, Islamic Fundamentalism in the Middle East, commercial control of both the politics and the media in the states, Jim Hansen in the states.

Connecting capitalism with freedom is more of a slogan than a reality.

I think it is the other way around. Freedom and a law that upholds contracts gives a market economy and capitalism.

Then different law systems have different bundles of standard contracts and the business climate varies. In some countries or regions almost everything not set in a contract is an open invitation to be screwed and people sign telephone directories written by staffs of lawyers. In others a lasting business deal can be made on a paper napkin and signed with a handshake.
( The later situation needs a high level of trust and understanding but gives a lot less non productive overhead. )

How these standard contracts are set up then affects how the corporate entities behave. But morally it is allways up to the people making the day to day decisions and those following them. I do not believe in evil corporations, only dumb or evil humans.

Also, we shouldn't forget that there are techno-fixes for global warming (geoengineering), so the problem may not be as dire as it sounds. It might turn out that the optimal approach is to just burn fossil fuels as usual, while implementing a global techno-fix. You'd have to evaluate costs to decide which is best overall for human beings and the environment: eliminating capitalism (powerdown), or keeping capitalism and fixing global warming.
didn't they try something like that in Highlander 2?
Okay, I've said why I think capitalism is inherently unsustainable.  So, where does that leave us?

I fear what's likely to happen is that capitalism will devolve into feudalism.  The middle class will disappear, and the poor will become serfs.

But that's not what I want to happen.  What I want to happen is for a new political system to arise.  One that works in the new, low-energy world.

It may be something so different from our current system that we can't imagine it, any more than people of Jesus' time could imagine a world where everything is paid for with a plastic card, and people routinely pay 20% interest.

I read an essay once proposing a system where money is never inherited, loaned, or exchanged.  You earn it by working, so there would be incentive to work.  But when you spend it, it disappears.  It's just deleted from your account.  When you die, your account is zeroed.  No need for an ever-expanding economy (as long as population is controlled), no accumulation of all the wealth in a few hands.  

It would put a lot of power in the government's hands, but I think we're looking at that scenario anyway, if we're serious about protecting the "commons."

I read an essay once proposing a system where money is never inherited, loaned, or exchanged.

That's a weird idea. What does it mean that money is "never exchanged"? Isn't money a medium of exchange?

You earn it by working, so there would be incentive to work.  But when you spend it, it disappears. It's just deleted from your account.

Isn't that what happens already in the current system? I give my money to the merchant, and (for me) it disappears, and is deleted from my account. Do you mean that somebody steps in and takes away the money after I give it to the merchant?

When you die, your account is zeroed.

What about all your stuff? Do they come and get it too? What if your wife is still living, but the house was in your name? Do people actually get to own their homes?

No need for an ever-expanding economy (as long as population is controlled), no accumulation of all the wealth in a few hands.

Right. But also no freedom. You're living in a totalitarian state similar to Maoist China.

It would put a lot of power in the government's hands, but I think we're looking at that scenario anyway, if we're serious about protecting the "commons."

You're putting quite an upbeat spin on "a lot of power in the government's hands". It makes me suspicious of people like you.

Let's start printing it with disappearing ink.  You only get 1 week to save it up.  After that... toilet paper.  (Oh, that's pretty much what we have now anyway... except maybe it lasts what? 5? 7? years now.)
Leanan wrote:
capitalism will devolve into feudalism

Let me think long and hard on that one.

OK. So every day, I go to work and earn MY money for all the work I do. But then I have to tithe over 50% of it to the government as "taxes" so they can "protect" me from the boogey men and also from that other thing --what was it?-- oh yeah, terrrrrorism.

OK. So at least I "own" my house except that every month I have to tithe over 25% of what's left after taxes to the bank, cause otherwise they will not let me farm here any more. They will kick me off the estate.

OK. So at least I "own" my car except that every week I have to tithe over 50% of what's left after taxes and mortgage to the oil company, cause otherwise I will lose the last vestige of my belief that I have personal "power", namely my ability to wheel around town as I choose and shop at the one super-duper-Wally-market left here.

Thank Lordy I don't yet live in a feudal society.

But when you spend it, it disappears.  It's just deleted from your account.

Presumably it is transferred to the account of the seller.  What do you mean by disappears?

It's been awhile since I read it.  I've been trying to find it again, but so far, no luck.

However, IIRC, it called for the money "spent" to just disappear.  The idea being to reward productive work, while discouraging large income disparities/mass wealth accumulation.  

I'm not saying this particular idea would work for a the post-carbon age.  Not least because I have doubts about how long computers will last in the post-carbon age, making electronic currency not very desirable.  But I do think we need to think outside the box this way.

Seems like anything with some kind of intrinsic value would wind up replacing "disappearing money".  As would also a value scale evolve with certain items, those with a longer shelf life, or those with higher energy content, probably having an  increasing value.  Wheat, for example, you can store it for awhile, and in the meantime you could eat it, giving it high intrinsic value in sustaining life.  If wheat is stored, it would have value at any time proportional to its remaining shelf life (a relation to its current energy content), until its value disappeared as it spoiled.  Gold would supposedly be another possible replacement, for which someone may trade wheat, because of its intrinsic desireability and better shelf life.  Therefore it would retain value longer than wheat, but it would only have real value to someone that didn't have to eat gold to stay alive.  A complex value scale would result considering that gold would bring with it the (supposed) disadvantage of requiring a more secure "silo" to keep it in and a lower energy content in regards to its capacity to sustain life if you had to eat it.
Environmental Arbitrage

Environmental arbitrage takes many forms: rapid depletion of a limited resource for immediate gain, pollution of an important ecosystem to avoid costs, weak environmental standards in one area of the globe as a means of enticing business away from an area with stronger environmental standards.

Each of these forms is in play today.  In all cases, they mean a more profitable bottom line, at least in the short term.  In the long term, they mean disaster.  In all cases, they are part of the ethos of market place.  Profits are what economists measure.  When they speak of free trade and the market place, they follow short-term activity, not long-term costs.  Let the market do its thing; corrections will occur.  I suggest that in some cases, the market cannot provide a corrective action.  It will be too late for any possible action.

To illustrate my point, consider two instances of environmental arbitrage in action.

The first is the Chesapeake Bay, now polluted almost beyond recovery.  The economic cost of returning it to a viable ecosystem is perhaps beyond us.  Watermen have exploited the resource close to the point of exhaustion.  As a consequence, crab houses on the Eastern Shore where Bay crabs were once peeled now must import crabs to stay in business.  Oysters, the lungs of the Bay, which once kept the Bay's water clear and which once sustained a thriving industry, are now near depletion.  Environmental arbitrage.

The pollution from the Bays tributaries and its shoreline has created massive dead zones where nothing can live.  And all this from a country that is among the leaders in protection of the environment. Environmental arbitrage.

The second is China.  Here we have not only pollution on such a massive scale that it will affect us all, we also have arbitrage that pits country against country, affecting not only trade but the economic health of us all.  A brief look at the policies of the WTO reveal what is happening.

Each country, according to the WTO, is allowed to set its own environmental standards, as long as the playing field is level among all participants operating within that country. What this means is that countries with strong environmental standards compete with countries with weak environmental standards.  Following the rules of the market place, many business will thrive because of weak environmental standards.  Does it really surprise us that China will become an economic powerhouse, at least in the short run?  Has any economist complained about this kind of economic arbitrage?  Not a whisper.  Will a revaluation of the dollar correct this economic arbitrage?  I doubt it.  Environmental arbitrage is not a factor in economic theory.  

Economists keep the keys to the bank, not to the health of the planet.  They keep an eye on short term interest, not the long term interest of us all.

And what of the long-term consequences to the planet itself?  China's belching factories affect us in just the same way that the coal-burning planets in Ohio acidify the lakes of Canada.  The pollution from its rivers affect not only Russia but also the health of the oceans we all share.  And what about the effects on global warming?  Economists are mum on its economic cost, except when they see possible trade routes being free of ice.

We all share this planet together.  We all are aware of what is happening.  All us of have a role to play, economists included.  Following GDP is fine; following its true cost is even better.  Economists can no longer work with tidy spreadsheets, graphing business activity this way and that.  Nor can they be apologists for a system that is wrecking slow and inexorable damage year after year.  

Projecting China's economic growth out to 2040 based on economics is an exercise in futility.  Instead, project environmental degradation, global warming, and energy needs out to 2040 and you might gain some insight on exactly where China will be in 2040

Capitalism versus socialism?  Humbug.  Ideology is a discussion for fools late at night, deep in their cups.  We need a new paradigm, a new way of thinking.  Grasping at old shibboleths will not do.  

Capitalism versus socialism?  Humbug.  Ideology is a discussion for fools late at night, deep in their cups.  We need a new paradigm, a new way of thinking.  Grasping at old shibboleths will not do.

I must have heard that a thousand times by now. And it is never followed by a description of the "new paradigm" (i.e. the new economic system we're going to be using).

We can't change horses midstream if we don't have another horse. Give us the DETAILS, stormy. I'm not biased against new economic ideas. I am, however, biased against new economic ideas that don't have any content.

IMO the logical conclusion from the dilemma stormy described is that we need a system in which everyone pays the true   cost of everything he or she does. True costs are arbitraged (between our generation and the next) not only in enviromental degradation but in the consumption of every non-renewable resource we take away from our children.

Since true costs are distributed on international scale the system that charges them must be also setup equally on international base. Sounds simple but it will be hard to happen because of one thing: unequality; less developed countries and poor in the rich countries will suffer and resist, because they will not be able to afford clean technologies. They will inevitably violate the international treaties in order just to keep afloat. So, the logical solution is that the rich must invest in poor countries economies and help them with clean technologies on preferable prices which will be in their own long-term interest. All of this can be setup with a nice set of agreements, international tax raises and tax cuts but these are details.

The main point is that we need to find away to replace international competition with cooperation based on our common long-term interests, and this more like a political not economical problem.

Hope I'm not dreaming too much.

In this system, how are "true" costs determined?
and WHO decides what is a "true" cost?
Power tends to corrupt.
OK, so true costs are hard to get and harder to exactify.  But just talking about them, or doing any sort of try at all is a whole huge lot better than today's ways of plain ignoring so much of the real cost of things that economics becomes  a stupid charade.  I bring up the true cost of oil to my retired liberal arts academic friends and they express surprise! "Gee, never heard of that line of thinking".  Long way to go.
Well I remember for example one of Richard Heinberg's statements: if we were to generate oil from renewable energy it would cost 150-200$. Ok, it would be fair to discount that with some percentage because oil is still abundant, and it would pass some time before the alternatives are truly needed on a large scale. But as we here at TOD suspect this time is nearing and the true costs of our oil usage begin to become apparent. We simply need to pay for the trouble we leave for the future now.

Add to this the carbon tax which soon or later must be imposed (harder to calculate) and I think that the oil should cost at least $200. The difference with market price should be invested in a fund developing alternatives (not like in Western Europe in building roads and filling the budget gaps).

Biofuel should be taxed according to the land usage and their influence on the environment.  

Uranium should be taxed as a non-renewable resource but for it a more precise assessment of the true uranium reserves should be made, including the possibility (and costs of uranium breeding).

Discounting the "non-renewable" tax with the time for which the specific resource will be available at current usage, will have the effect of gradually raising its price but the price would be much more fair than it would be if we left it to the market. And we'd leave economic agents the time to ajust.

The costs of land erosion or the polution should be calculated on the following basis: how many years without economic activity would be needed to recover the ecosystem to its previous state? Or how much it would cost to recover it with human help? And you pick the least of two. So each time you put a fertilizer at your farm that will kill fish down in the Mexican Gulf you'll have to pay for it.

Ovarall I agree that the "true" costs are hard to calculate but hard does not mean impossible. And an imprecise calculation is much worse than none. What I expect to happen if this is implemented is quite harder life and lower economic activity, but nobody said that is easy to leave sustainably.

My pet long as human nature continues being what it is, ie I got mine screw you (to be blunt), there is no economic system to replace capitalism. There are no details to be filled out. There is no other horse. Capitalism works because it is based on greed. People are greedy. QED.

So unless something fundamental changes about people, its game over. Thus arise websites like etc. and the doomer point of view. I try not to subscribe to it, but logically I keep ending up there, especially after reading threads like this. Don't ask me how to accomplish this change, perhaps it requires a miracle, or some quick evolution - shedding our reptilian brains?

If any oil drummers have the answer, bottle it and sell it now :) long as human nature continues being what it is, ie I got mine screw you (to be blunt), ... Capitalism works because it is based on greed. People are greedy. QED. ... perhaps it requires a miracle, or some quick evolution - shedding our reptilian brains?


Hurray! Finally someone with the testicular fortitude to swing the baseball bat at the core of the problem.

I'm calling your first swing above as strike one --close but not yet making contact with the curved-ball behavior of our mad, mad species.

We do not have purely reptilian brains. We are MAMMALS. We have a limbic sponge layer overlying our reptilian hard core.

Evolution will not allow us to shed our reptilian core and it will not let us dump our limbic overlayer. That's because our young'ins don't crawl out of an egg shell, ready to tackle the world on their own as reptiles do. (Alligators don't suckle their babies.)

Our young'ins, you see, need their limbic-leaning mamma's. They need Hillary's "Village" to herd them along, to nurture them, to cultivate them, to educate them, and to finally unleash them onto the world as strong men, as dominant men, ... as islamic warriors. Just kidding. No I'm not. It's all about how OUR society cultivates the various layers of the brain: the reptilian core, the limbic soft-touch sponge, and the sometimes present-- neo-cortex with its ability to engage in rational thought process.

Nurture is just as much a fundamental part of how our economic systems come to be as is Nature (as is the inherent "greedy", "selfish" part of human nature).

Are you ready to swing your bat again?

Give it a shot. You may hit an intellectual home run.

Maybe.....I am willing to think out loud at the keyboard...but what am I swinging at? I usually get to the end point of my previous post and throw up my can you change the natures - biological programming -  of 6+ billion people? Is it past the point where it will even make a difference? I've been whiffing at that one for some time.

Here's something I do feel confident about though - all the problems we talk about here are really people problems. That sounds all touchy-feely, I know. I think and believe that we as a species have GOT to transcend our biological progamming. An example I've pondered lately - the notion of healthy fertile couples choosing to adopt rather than having their own kids. One can still raise a happy family without spreading ones genes around. But propagating is machine-language human programming - it seems that most people find it alien to even consider anything otherwise.

There's nothing "wrong" with having kids - I'm glad my parents did! - but is there something wrong when  billions have kids and then we consume all the resources and it all goes to hell? I think so...why is it that the individual, apparently reasonable actions of each of us, have added up to this enormous cluster?  

geez - I read this and it looks like a bunch of half-ass pseudo philosophy. I study rocks, not people. If you've got some insight, please share!

Heres my stab --- ok its not human nature that makes us greedy. Its the money system we all have to (well, those of us that like to eat haha) use. See, every tick of the clock is counted in some interest calculation that effectively says the money supply needs to shrink to pay back the source loans. To make the math work so that the loans can be repayed the total money supply has to be increased by these same lenders. One day even the new loans wont leave enough circulation to pay back even just the interest -- thats when the house of card falls. But until then, we are left coping with money that loses value as the overall money supply is increased, losing value with every tick of the clock. So we just always need more money to maintain the standard of living we got used to. We dont mean to be greedy, its just the only thing that works to avoid loss. People fundamentally want to avoid loss. Maybe I just speak for myself.
I vote for human nature.
... it looks like a bunch of half-ass pseudo philosophy. I study rocks, not people. If you've got some insight, please share!

As for "insights", I try to post semi-humorous, semi-tragic ones on my Lemmings on the Ledge blog (LoL --get it?), rather than here so much.

(The point of my Peakless LoL blog is that we human critters are mammals with herd instincts and we "stampede" just like the supposedly sub-human rodents. So are we that different? Maybe not.)

The point I want to make here is that each of us, not just you, "specializes" in some area of study --rocks for you.

Specialization makes us stupid in a way.
We are each so specialized, none of us can "step back" and see the bigger picture.

We owe it to geniuses like M.K. Hubbert and Matt Simmons who had the ability to step back and see the big picture.

But the human herds are not listening. Why not?

It is the human brain rather than rocks that determines how we human critters will behave. Will we "stay the course" or will we wake up and start heading in a new direction?

The fault lies not in our geology dear Horatio, but in our seretonin levels.

Huh? (Seretonin is a mood setting chemical in the brain. If you have too little you become depressed. If you have too much you become overly optimistic. Anti-depression drugs like Prozac function as seretonin uptake inhibitors. Someone else posted way above here about doing a PhD study on the link between seretonin levels and fast food consumption --an interesting hypothesis.)

It is specialization which makes us vunerable.

So you need to branch out and study areas that make you uncomfortable.

Personally, I did not like what I found when I started exploring the Lemming-Human link. We are just like them, maybe worse. At least lemmings don't dump CO2 into the atmosphere and bake the planet. They die quietly as they leap over the ledge. (Ever hear a lemming scream?)

Fair enough, ID.  In defense, I am limited in space.  The short form includes:

(1) Economists must climb on board and participate in discussing the problem.  Their focus at present is much too narrow, too myopic, too much a defense of "free trade" and "consumerism."  Without economists on board, we have little chance of reaching the world of business...and its partner in crime, the world of politics. Without them, change will not be gradual; it will be catastrophic.  If we can convince them of our case, then we have a chance to steer our course safely, not to founder on rocks.  Believe it or not, it is the left-leaning economists who are our greatest challenge.  Right now, you can barely tell the difference between them and the far right.   The two camps remind me of the Big-Endians and the Small-Endians in "Gulliver's Travels"; they argue over which end will create a better omelet or more profit; neither complains about the actual cost of that "profit."  The left just gives a bigger sigh towards the vanishing middle and working class.  The right says things are going well.  Take your pick.  With the left, I find a little more hope.  They can almost connect the dots. But their education, not their intelligence or generosity, gets in their way.

(2) The actual charter of a corporation must change.  A corporation's primary obligation can no longer be just to its stockholders.  Its primary responsibility must be to those who granted the charter. A corporation can maintain its charter if and only if it is a responsible citizen, if it meets its civic responsibilities. One of these responsibilities is not to impair the environment. Those corporations that are not responsible must be disbanded.  The consequences of failure must be dire; meaningless fines will not work.  We must reward those corporations that do meet their civic obligations. If we change this one element, we will begin to effect enormous change throughout the business community.  How a business defines success and the rules by which it profits must change.  The whole ethos of the corporation must change. (I would suggest also that growth and continued expansion should be curtailed. While economies of scale are necessary, how we curtail continued growth is very tricky. The aim of a company cannot be simply to sell more and more.)  

We need a Bill of Obligations that each corporation must follow. Those obligations must be taught in business school.  We must temper the hardened steel of the profit motive; make it more malleable to the public good.  One man's profit must profit us all. The rising disparity of wealth--even within the states--is accelerating.  Wealth must be more evenly distributed.  Those at the top should not reap all the rewards. Power and influence must be more evenly distributed.  

(3) World trade bodies and international banks (WTO and the IMF) must insist that development be sustainable.  These bodies can no longer serve corporate interests and just the profit motive.  The WTO, for example, must hold every country to the same environmental standards and the same labor standards.  Standards cannot differ from country to country.  Business merely flows downhill to the lowest standard.  Entry into the WTO means acceptance of those standards.  In addition, those standards must gradually and steadily increase. Environmental and labor standards must be worldwide. Not to do so endangers not only the environment and quality of life but also endangers the world's economy.  (I would argue that the twin deficits of the U.S. are, in part, a result of environmental, tax, and labor arbitrage.) These world bodies provide us with existing frameworks in which to work.  They must be strengthened.  They must see their purpose as making our world a better one in every respect.  Changing these institutions will not be easy.  Again, I turn to the economists.

(4) How and for what purposes we extend credit must be rethought.  Right now credit is used to push consumer mentality to its maximum.  We can no longer do this.  Frugality must be part of the new ethos.  America is the Enron nation; eventually our bills will swamp us.  Because credit is so pervasive, an energy crunch could create massive economic upheaval.  We need sound economies so that we can make the transition as smoothly as possible.

(5) The world community must abolish, using whatever means possible, all tax havens.  This includes havens like Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, and even ones you would not expect, say, Ireland.  Tax havens and transfer pricing rob us of vast financial resources.  These resources are far greater than most can even begin to imagine.  They dwarf the economies of entire nations.  They are part of the financial resources we will need. Again, this is part the new ethos I am suggesting.  And, yes, I would have the WTO set worldwide tax standards for business.  No more tax arbitrage.

(6) We must seriously tackle population growth, the Catholic Church and the Bush administration notwithstanding.  If we do not do it, nature will.

What I am suggesting may seem to be a seismic change; it is not. And I think that some business leaders outside of their role as CEO's would agree with much of it.  Many are upset at what we are doing to the environment; at the same time, in their business lives, they are obliged to act quite differently. We can help make these two aspects of their lives the same.  They would no longer have to be Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde.

We must change our existing institutions and change how we behave. If we made some fundamental changes to some of our institutions, we might gain some time. These are some of the possibilities I have in mind.  Apologies if they seem dashed off; they were.  Apologies if they are incomplete; they are.  Unfortunately, posting is like writing on a pinhead, very, very frustrating.  

Thanks stormy. Those are some sensible reformist ideas, and I think a lot of business people would agree with them, as you say. In fact, there are many companies (like Sharp for instance) that are doing some amazing things in terms of green manufacturing etc. But it's one thing to say we need to reform corporate practices, and other thing to say we need to eliminate capitalism per se, as Newman and others suggest.
Stormy, in 3-6 you're talking about a complete loss of individual and national sovereignty, yielded to some central world planning body, probably the UN.  The US, and the EU for that matter, would never yield to that without some sort of bargaining chip, would they?

(ding!  oil fungibility!  which would require the oil exporting nations to work in lockstep with the UN, which would have to find at least a cursory military presence without the US.)

. . . and the probability of this happening is roughly 0.000000000000000000000012%
Here is a 7'th item to add to the reformist agenda. De-emphasise religion. You allude to the Catholic Church and Bush involving birth control, but religion has become destructive. Religion is a pretty hard addiction for many people to kick.

Religion btrrds ignorance and bigotry, not just overpopulation. The Middle East is the prime example, but our own Christians are no slouches for bigotry. After all, we have anti-abortion bombers. Are they REALLY different from their moslem counterparts?

For those who have not seen the documentary "Corporations" I strongly recommend it.  The very nature and personality of the corporation lies at the heart of our dilemma.

How we do business, its ethos, is of concern to all us.

And how we, personally, conduct business is of equal concern to everyone else.

There can be good corporate citizens.  The above documentary is very enlightening.

Rules of game (all VERY old)
  1. I am you, you are me; we share the same grandchildren, so let us be happy together and work to give them what it is that we would like to have been given.
  2. economics- everything shall bear its FULL price- that  price is the equivalent of what is required to put the world back together  to be at least as well off as before the thing was created.
  3. Corporations.  First sentence of articles of incorporation "We are proposing to make the world a better place by -----( beer, batteries, bongo drums etc etc etc).  we request allowance to do this as long as we can show that the world is indeed a better place for our efforts. If we cannot, we shall disappear."
  4. Government- of, by and for the people, to mutually assure the rules are followed.
For those interested in redesign of Corporations and capitalism, see the website of a group working on just this:  

A good group which has connected well with the makers of "The Corporation" movie and book by Joel Bakan.  Info here:  

I'd also recommend "The Divine Right Of Capital" by Marjorie Kelly.  Info here:  

Finally, ZNet contributors have been working on an alternative economic paradigm for some years. It is called "participatory economics" or "parecon."  Michael Albert wrote a book to describe it.  Wikipedia has an article on it, but ZNet's info is here:  

What we call "capitalism" today is a far cry from anything Adam Smith would have approved of -- that much is obvious if you've read Adam Smith or anything about his life or opinions.  What we today call capitalism is more accurately called "corrupt crony capitalism" and very lately has devolved into open "corporatism" or "fascism."  Not a bright future there.

Permaculture actually expresses and embodies true capitalism as far as I am concerned.  Permaculture is a way of doing things so that one lives from the interest harvested from capital, while not depleting capital.  Permaculture is complex, but may contain principles which would help us to evolve a capitalism which incloproates the kind of self-regulation we see in some natural systems.

Permaculture is largely a grassroots movement, but is finding expression in some political discussion as well as discussion of peak oil.  A good summary is here:  

EnergyBulletin ran permaculturalist David Holmgren's recent article on the topic here:  

To summarize:  what we have today is a terribly corrupted form of capitalism.  We will not be able to solve the problem we have created with the same kind of thinking we used to make our (resource depletion, global climate change) problem.  Call it permacapiculture or permaparecapiconoculture or whatever you like, just don't call me late for dinner!

Harvest a yield of energy and material to thrive on without messing with the capital. Care for earth and others.  Understand more so as to destroy less. This is the direction we must go.

My hypothesis is that our species-as-experiment will demonstrate soon that we have dramatically overshot the population constraints of our "capital" or resources, and so a big "correction" is coming up. The challenge will be to create a new model of our household (oikos, greek, partial root of economics, means "Household") which transcends capitalism, communism, and such.

The answer is yes, capitalism, in its present form, is incompatible with sustainability.

Since capitalism is based on unending economic growth, it requires unending increases in total energy supplies for all forms of economic activity.

Even a "plateau" in energy supplies, as opposed to a peak  followed quickly by a decline, will not support continued economic growth.

Population growth is similarly incompatible with sustainability. The US currently imports about 60% of its oil, another way of saying that it only has enough oil for about 40% of its population. So, the US could be energy independent today if it had a population of roughly 120 million people instead of 300 million. In fact, to remain energy independent, its population would need to be decreasing at a rate comparable to the decline in its domestic oil production. A 2% annual decline rate would mean that its population would need to halve every 35 years continuously in order to remain energy independent at unchanged per capita use rates.

World population is sustained by food produced with fertilizer made from natural gas, and herbicides and pesticides made from oil. If gas production peaks and then declines at just 2% annually, then population would need to decrease by a factor of 2 each 35 years until it reached a level that could be supported without commercial agriculture based on fossil fuels. The big problem is that this rate of population decrease would not occur in normal circumstances.

Thanks Scott - well put. Looked at from that vantage point, for the US to continue its path, our population will have to increasingly use energy from other countries, who, with their own population increases, will have less and less to sell. So clearly its less people or people with less as energy per capita declines.

And, welcome to TOD!  Scott is the Executive Director of ASPO-USA. More info at the website link on his profile.

welcome to TOD, Scott!
100 million head of cattle per annum each taking 6 barrels of oil to get to market, when oil goes upto 150 a barrel thats some expensive meat you got there.

300million hectares of soya in the USA thats 1 Hectare per person.

Enough corn in 2004 to feed the entire usa for 4 years.

I think you have plenty of fat to be trimming before you are in a "starvation" scenario, unless all the land goes toxic....

I wish I could do some graphs on the agricultural energy use, but I dont have the software and I dont know the USA well enough to find stats that I know are 100% can anyone help?

yankee has a post related to this a while back...might want to search in the side.  it had a lot of external resources in it.
also might want to read Lester Browns book on agriculture "Outgrowing the Earth"
-sasquatchvegan (your cousin)
Since capitalism is based on unending economic growth ...

Everyone on this thread seems to be sure they know exactly what "capitalism" is is.

Wikipedia's definition of capitalism does not require "growth" to be an essential element of capitalism. "Growth" it appears, is a positive outcome of capitalism due to reinvestment of profit plus original capital into yet further profitable enterprise. The thing that grows is the amount of capital.

In capitalism, profit is necessary for economic growth, with the growth being a function of the amount of profit reinvested rather than consumed. ... from above-linked Wiki page
Key statement, "capitalism, in its present form, is incompatible with sustainability."

Capitalism could be compatible, if we started using "sustainable dollars", dollars earned in relation to a product's value based on its sustainability quotiant.  A mass and dramatic reeducation of the consumer would obviously be required to place value on items in relation to the item's  "true cost" of production and the product's capacity to sustain the environment when used.  

Perhaps what we need is to be knocked back to a point where we must once again interact with the environment on a daily basis to appreciate and find happiness in accomplishing our own personal daily tasks using sustainable methods.  Only then can we begin to appreciate what it really means.   Whenever I hear about sustainable methods, its always in relation to what somebody else is doing.  Fair prices for sustainably grown coffee or cotton.. never seems to have an impact on me in my present state.  We need to make going to work every day just like the experience and feeling of accomplishment you get when you take a sailboat out, balance the sails against the wind and the currents, keep it from capsizing, and arrive safely at your destination.  Something for which I never forget to thank Neptune each time.

Capitalist, fascist, communist, etc., all share the modern pathologies identified above: 1) extreme and growing wealth disparities, and 2) driving, indescriminate, unsustainable, exponential growth. We all will have to navigate future's bottleneck.

In the U.S., with 300 million people and in this world of well more than 6 billion people, I invite change that must be a cumulative result of hundreds of millions, even billions, of value and goal-oriented decisions. Among these values and goals, I envision:

  1. Millions of learners who embrace authentic (not rote) learning as individuals and in groups, and who value processes and embrace changes that support authentic learning;
  2. Millions of learners learning creatively, seeking one another out, and supporting one another across all traditional boundaries;
  3. Millions of enterprising people making enterprise decisions to grow down and grow better -- in other words, to discriminate in their energy and resource expenditures by (on the whole) seeking to reduce throughput and increase quality.

I think of this as "constructive creativity."

There is insight in complexity theory that simple rule sets can generate unimaginably complex organization. We see in chaos theory how small events can trigger great non-linear changes. In the wisdom of crowds and in the synergy of wholeness (the whole is more than the sum of its parts) we see benefits of fruitful connection.

If these insights are not reasons to be optimistic about society's long-term future, they are at least initial pretext for hopefulness, I think.

Maybe others who participate here have ideas about organizing values or goals.

There was great line early on that i'd like to add to, "capitalism is the ecology of the economics we have now", meaning that perhaps given our species drives for procreation and comfort, our discovery of some pretty stunning resources and our inventive minds with the limited understanding of future discounting, it was inevitable that we arrive somewhere amidst capitalism.
That we (in the West) have gone in recent decades for the full-on economic fundamentalism model of capitalism may also be inevitable, given our superiority at violence and exhaustion of our local resources.

But none of this happened overnight, or in simple steps. Every country has passed thru a fair number of variations on the socialism-capitalism theme in last two centuries, with change not really even being cyclical, let alone linear or binary.

Thus I twitch every time someone says "which..", because it assumes that the future involves some choice between a small number of discrete alternatives, often not terribly dissimilar (eg. capitalism and communism, which both eternalise costs to the nonhuman systems).

So screw the name games, i think we have to replumb our existing systems and decide what to call it later.
Is your country leaking wealth to currency speculators? Smear a Tobin Tax all round the joints.
Is too much wealth accumulating in fatty deposits? Apply demurrage and rediscover what money is for!
Are you running out of planet? Try taxing ALL consumption, instead of effort!
Your legal conveniences (corporations) become a nuisance? revoke their charters, mandate transperancy for misdemeanors, execute their executives.

None of these are very new ideas, they've just never made it because not enough people got it and gave a sh*t. Now more and more people are seeing that giving a sh*t might perhaps be in their best interests, the dashboard is ablazed with blinking warning lights.  
Then why is fixing what is broken still seen as radical? Because so many who think they're awake are really still asleep, unable to comprehend the consequences of the decision we're making with business as usual.

That is how I feel, too.  As Albert Einstein said, "The problems of today will not be solved by the same thinking that produced the problems in the first place."  The solutions will be outside the box.  Not the same choices we faced a hundred years ago, when the Age of Oil was young.  The world has changed since then.  What worked in the first half of the Age of Oil will not work in the second half.  

We face long odds, I know.  But I haven't given up hope yet.  Some societies have succeded in becoming sustainable.  They have continued for 5,000 years or more without ecological catastrophe or Malthusian dieoff.  We are not genetically doomed to grow until we crash, like yeast in a bottle.  

Are Capitalism and a Habitable Planet Mutually Exclusive?
Any economic system that is based on the assumption of perpetual growth is bound to fail on a finite planet.

I have written a paper outlining the problem and proposing an alternative system called The Organic Economy. One of the main problems that we face is a money system that relies on constant growth. An excerpt from The Organic Economy:
Money is created and issued by banks in the form of loans. These loans are the source of the money that circulates in our economy. The interest charged on loans is a key part of the growth economy.

Imagine a situation in which 10 people each borrow $10 from a bank. These 10 people form their own closed economy and money system. The terms of the loan are that each person has to repay the $10 at the end of one year, plus one extra dollar in interest, for a total of $11. Since there is only $100 in the system (10 people x $10), it will be impossible for 10 people to pay back $11 each - that would equal $110, more money than exists. The ten people must compete fiercely for money to repay the bank, and at least on of them will not be able to repay her loan. If 9 people each pay back the $11 they owe, that would equal $99 and there would only be $1 left for the last unfortunate person, who would become bankrupt.

Now imagine that six months into the year, 10 more people join the economy, each with a $10 loan. Suddenly there is $200 in the economy and only $110 of it will be due at the end of the first year. There is enough money to satisfy short term requirements, but still not enough in the long run. The amount of debt still exceeds the supply of money.

The money system of a growth economy is based on credit that is issued under the assumption that tomorrow's economic expansion will be able to repay today's loans. But what if tomorrow does not bring expansion?
This kind of money system is likely to simply collapse when it becomes apparent that continued growth cannot be assumed. The Organic Economy outlines an alternative that is neither capitalism nor communism, nor is it based on a combination of these two extremes.
I agree that capitalism is likely to collapse in the face of peak oil.  Not immediately, but eventually. People will simply stop investing, because it becomes a fool's game.  

I've bookmarked your paper to read later.  You might consider putting up an HTML or plain text version.  PDFs are not terrible readable.

Good point. The table of contents HTML page is available here.
The Tragedy of the Commons is a good first stab at resource problems by economists, but it suffers from a short term conceptual framework.  It works for teaching.  We picture too many horses grazing, and can picture a pasture quickly degraded.  When we do that we are picturing an immediate penalty for ourselves in that barren land.

Peak oil and global warming are not just commons, they are commons with deferred penalties.  It's quite possible that many of us here will live out our lives consuming oil and generating CO2 ... without any noticeable penalty.

On a "cynical day" I tend to think that difference is insurmountable ... that economics (or any other intellectual discipline) will be playing catch-up forever to human behaviors and exchanges rooted in the "now."

agreed.  it is a stab...but so many of our models/theoretical constructs are lacking when applied to the real world; but, models and theoretical constructs are also the only way to make nomothetic inferences...if you want to generalize, you lose depth.  If you want to tell an idiographic story, you get the depth, but you lose the ability to generalize, except in rare events cases.
Hardin was (do not know if still alive) or is a biologist, NOT an economist. His thinking is as deep and broad and solid as that of anybody in the twentieth century.

We would all do well to reread (or read for the first time) his works.

I've skimmed in the past, and with this impetous I'll go skim again ...

Oh, this will convert the masses:

The only way we can preserve and nurture other and more precious freedoms is by relinquishing the freedom to breed, and that very soon. "Freedom is the recognition of necessity" -- and it is the role of education to reveal to all the necessity of abandoning the freedom to breed. Only so, can we put an end to this aspect of the tragedy of the commons.

Again, my cynicism has to do with the gulf between tweedy lectures and the brough human response to far future problems.  Really think that one will get 'em hooked?

One of the strong implications of the Tragedy of the Commons is that democracy as we know it inevitably self-destructs. This insight is not new: Plato realized and explicitly stated in "The Republic" that population control could be implemented only through the Noble Lie and also by trickery. He did not actually advocate this policy, as shown in his very interesting and little-known "The Laws" but he had the courage to face up to the problem of population control.

Oil is not especially scarce compared to the scarcity of honesty and even greater scarcity of courage by academics in these days of political correctness.

I think one of the problems in this thread is that people localize impacts of a broader human nature into specific organizing institutions (be that democracy or capitalism).

If democratic/capitalist societies were the only ones suffering that might be valid, but what we know that's not true ...

No, another aspect of human nature is to "round up the usual suspects" when a problem arises.  For some the usual suspect may be a capitalist, for another it may be an environmentalist.

We are dealing with the "bounded rationality" of the human race, to steal another term from the academics.  The jury is still out on whether we are too "bounded" for these sorts of problems.

The average household revolving credit (credit card) debt is now $11,000-12,000.

I find it impossible to take such statistics as "unrelated" to the broad population's future-awareness.

I recently read a book titled "America Beyond Capitalism". It advocated a system called the Pluralist Commonwealth. It showed how employeed owned businesses are more environmentally and socially responsible while still remaining profitable. It explained ways of financing government services through ways other than traditional taxation. It explained a way for poor children to have substantional investment portfolials by the time they graduate from high school.  It explained how shocked new members of Congress are when CEOs come with their hands out when things go bad for their industries. Essentially America has a highly socailized economy with the overwhelming proportion of benefits going to the extremely wealthy. It raises the question of why don't the federal, state, and local governments demand shares of stock in exchange for these benefits. The problem isn't capitalism, its the highly concentrated ownership of capital.
How is it possible to have capitalism that doesn't result in highly concentrated ownership of capital? It seems to be a natural tendency of capital to collect and grow in some places while leaving other areas (people) in poverty. If you try to regulate that through government, you are working against the natural flow of capitalism.
Socialism does not mean communism aka china or russia.

Lets say that Capitalism brought us the industrial revolution and cheap things, at a cost of environmental degradation and child labour. Labour unions and socialism brought us a bit of balance between the two. Maybe now we need the balance to swing more to European ideals of socialism (say, Sweden) vs the american ideal of capitalism. As someone living between the two ideals already, up here in canada, I don't see this as radical, or impossible. We need to alter the balance of power to the needs of the people, not corporations and shareholders.

When  I posted a link to the Capitalism/Habitable Planet article on the Friday Open Thread yesterday, I added my continuing recommendation:  Replace the Payroll (Social Security + Medicare) Tax with a vastly higher petroleum fuel tax.  

Our basic problem, as several people have noted, is that our whole economic system is based on rapidly depleting nonrenewable resources.   The advantage of changing our tax system is that it would unleash the forces of free market capitalism against petroleum fuels.  I would abolish all forms of subsidy for alternative energy, because taxing the hell out of most fossil fuels would do a terrific job of making alliterative energy sources vastly more competitive (wind is already more competitive in a lot of areas).   One question is whether or not to raise taxes on coal and natural gas.

I realize that most of us feel powerless, but I think everyone in the Peak Oil/Alternative Energy/Environmental communities need to coalesce behind the simple straight forward idea of changing the tax code.   If anyone else has a better idea, I would very much like to hear it.  

I suggest that you start trying to organize symposiums regarding Peak Oil and the tax code in your own areas.  My wife and I came up with the idea for a joint symposium featuring Matt Simmons and Jim Kunstler.   After a lot of hard work and a lot of help from Southern Methodist University, the Greater Dallas Planning Council and corporate underwriters, the symposium was a reality, here in Dallas on November 1st of last year.  Any of you can do something similar.   The basic theme of "The Tipping Point," is that "There is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come."

Do you want to just talk about the problem, or do you want to try to do something about the problem?

Jeffrey J. Brown
Independent Petroleum Geologist

Thank you very much for your noble efforts, Sir westexas, I shall do as you urge.  I have the ear of the local paper (as an old prof I like to lecture!) and it is fun to preach hellfiredamnatioin speeches (appropriately modified, of course).

I hope all you good folks, do go out and preach the word as you see it.  We can't just sit around and watch the world go to hell, can we? And I am often quite surprised to see what a positive response I get from what some would call an issue too complex and terrifying  for the unwashed masses.  I find that if they are given a positive suggestion, such as the above tax change, they will come out of their fright posture and perk up to the possibilities.

But what I find you gotta do is quickly follow the fuel tax statement with an emphasis on the benefits of the other tax reductions, along with, where needed, some direct assistance to those most severely impacted.

alliterative, alternative, close enough I suppose
thanks - I was trying to cipher the EROI between the embodied energy in eastern Ethiopian ethanol and WallaWalla wind, wave and waste
The gas tax and fossil fuel tax is a superb idea, wt!

Tax policy is really more about control than it is about raising revenue anyway.

Raising revenue for governance is a given.  How to raise revenue is determined by TPTB to reward "the political base" and to manipulate behaviours by discouraging some kinds of economic activity and encouraging others.

"Tax breaks" encourage so many economic behaviours that the whole system has become a convoluted, byzantine maze in which the wealthy are able to hide their treasure trove.

Taxing gas would solve a number of problems in "one swell foop!"  So, then this talk about not subsiding alliterative (alternative, renewable) energy is intriguing as well.

Alternative and renewable energy needs subsidy so that more people can afford to create the infrastructure to participate.  Wealthy folks will be able to create the infrastructure, but many poor people will not be able to come up with cash to put solar water heat systems onto their homes, for example.  It seems that there is a place for encouraging immediate and widespread changeover to renewables by focusing subsidies on helping poor people make the changeover.

This is different,of course, from simply subsidizing energy.  Nevertheless, we need to design subsidies to spread the use of renewables amoung those who cannot yet afford them at a much faster rate than the "trickle-down of truth to the falsely-named 'free market'will ever allow.

Tax, spend, incentivise, disincentivise, subsidise, reward, punish -- we do it all the time.  the question is only "who benefits?"

looks like nesting is broken gang.  keep the comments on the top level for a while.
Don't worry about the nesting problem.
The market will provide.
Capitalism will provide.
The Invisible Hand will fix the problem.
It always does.
Capitalism has a number of flaws. Pollution, mismanagement of commons, etc are known to economists as cases of market failure. Extra institutions have to be added to make capitalism work well.

Ironically, one place that capitalism already works well, in theory, is in management of privately-owned scarce resources. Peak Oil is a perfect example of a situation which is best managed by a pure capitalistic society. In such a society, people are motivated by greed to extract maximum profits from every drop of oil. As oil becomes scarce, the price rises exponentially and it can be proven that society extracts the maximum total social good from the oil, even though the sellers are individually motivated only by greed.

If oil resources are uncertain, capitalism provides the best known mechanisms for motivating people to discover the true situation and to disclose private information about oil resources. This happens through markets, where the prices of products and of futures reveal consensus estimates of resource scarcity.

That's the theory: how does it work in practice? Well, a big problem is that most oil these days is not sold by capitalists! Ironically, for this Peak Oil discussion board, not many people have noted that the biggest problems with lack of transparency and opaque motivations in the oil business come from governments. We have much less visibility into the workings of Saudi Arabia than we do into Exxon. And it's not (just) because of government regulation of Exxon, but rather because Exxon stockholders will demand to know what their investments are worth. Imagine if you were invited to invest in Saudi Arabian oil. You'd have no idea what the resource situation is; everybody says something different. Private companies that extract natural resources are forced to provide considerable visibility into the state of their assets - otherwise no one will invest.

Largely for this reason, there is still a lack of consensus within the capitalistic community about Peak Oil. Futures prices are high by historical standards but not any higher than today's prices. The straightforward interpretation is that the oil market will remain much as it is today, with just barely enough oil to meet demand, implying that we do not face a near-term peak. Based on that interpretation, oil prices, which are being set by market mechanisms, are not unreasonable.

As the situation becomes clearer and an oil production peak comes into sight, prices should rise - at least, if everyone involved starts acting look a good (i.e. greedy) capitalist. This is exactly what we should hope for, that Saudi Arabia and Russia and other major oil producers start thinking like capitalists, and manage their remaining stock of oil so as to maximize profitability. This will ensure that oil prices rise as they should and that the world will follow an optimal path as it drains the remaining oil from the reservoirs.

Speaking of the lack of corporate accountability, you can watch the documentary, The Corporation,at Highly recommended.
Let's not forget that corporations are simply legal fictions created by the government. They are as accountable, or as unaccountable, as the law allows.
corporations are simply legal fictions created by the government. They are as accountable, or as unaccountable, as the law allows.

The bottom line = the bOttOm line NOT

Just ask Arthur Anderson (accountants for Enron & the World at large)

((p.s. for those who don't know, Arthur Andersen was one of the prestigious big 7 accounting firms in the USA. It collapsed soon after Enron Corp. collapsed. Until then, AA was using GAAP (generally accepted "accounting" priciples) to assure the world that everything is fine at Enron. Kenny Boy and Skillful Skilling are now standing trial as Chairman and CEO of Enron for their alleged misdoings. Their defense probably will be: we got confusionated by all the fuzzy numbers. AA deceived us. We are innocent idiots. Blame them, not us.))