Is More Better?

Editor's Note: This is a guest post from thelastsasquatch.

Peak Oil is one of many symptoms of an ecologically full planet. Our genetically embedded drive for `more' coupled with an expanding world population of 6.5 billion suggests a finite limit for growth will eventually be reached, if it hasn't been already.

In discussions about the impacts of Peak Oil, it is sometimes implicitly assumed that we NEED to replace the energy lost from the coming liquid fuels decline with other energy sources in order to maintain our way of life and our happiness. Indeed, it seems that much of the current effort is focused on comparing/discovering the best energy alternatives with respect to EROI, environmental impact and scalability/timing. In addition, demand experts also look at efficiency, carpooling, 4 day workweek, living locally type solutions, etc. In this post, I look at Peak Oil from a broader context: the necessity and purpose of continued increases in demand for energy. What is it all for, if not to make us happy?

Some ecologists are of the opinion that the world can sustainably house 1-2 billion humans. Any figure used here presupposes a certain energy consumption and planetary impact per human. But the world currently has a broad variety of cultures, habits, and energy footprints. Based on the sometimes fearful rhetoric of the Peak Oil community, it is presumed that less energy per capita is necessarily a bad thing. In an initial exercise towards some longer term research, I looked at data of subjective well-being from a large multinational study done by This study, done in 4 waves over the last 15 years, measured dozens of demographic indicator variables, one of which was subjective well-being.

Below is one of their better known graphs showing the relationship between GNP per capita and % of population in each country that is `satisfied' or `happy' with their lives.

It can be seen, that at low levels of GNP, happiness is lacking, but once a certain level of GNP is reached, incremental income per capita adds very little to subjective well being.

Ronald Inglehart of World Values Survey verbalized the above graph by stating that after meeting basic needs, lifestyle choices make up the majority of the difference in the GNP spectrum, and lower energy lifestyles do just about as well as high energy lifestyles (indeed, there are at least 10 countries on that graph that score higher on life satisfaction than the USA, and they each produce less GNP).

Since GNP and energy use are correlated, I was curious what the link would be between happiness and per capita energy use. Using the `very happy' percentage from the 1999/2000 wave of international tests from World Values Survey, I compared them to all countries that had primary energy data for (primary energy is a broader measure than just oil) and then divided by 2000 population census. The results are in this graph:

As can be seen, there is little correlation at all between subjective well being and energy use. (The actual r2 is 14%). Of note is the United States uses 39 times the primary energy as the Phillipines yet the percentage of the population that is `very happy' is about equal. While there is a low r2, this does not mean there is not a relationship. The graph shows that all high energy users are happy. But it also shows you don't need high energy to be happy. It could therefore be read as saying that the high users are wasting considerable amounts of energy - ie not needed to be happy.

Vaclav Smil, in his book "Energy at the Crossroads" did similar work on objective measures of wellbeing vs energy consumption. A pattern similar to the above `boomerang' curve is found on comparisons of female longevity, sufficient nutritional food, educational opportunities, freedom etc. The shape is also the same, but inverted, for infant mortality. In general, Smil concludes that a reasonable level of well being on objective measures is achievable between 50 and 70 GJ/per capita, with marginal increases up to 100 GJ per capita. As a comparison, North America is currently at 340 GJ per capita. Again, the large excess consumption is not improving objective wellness.

As evolved animals at the top of the food chain, humans have become adept at acquiring resources, including energy. At some point though, "more energy" apparently does not make us "more happy". Anecdotally, as a former stockbroker, I witnessed first hand that clients worth hundreds of millions were no happier than the entry level clerks, even though being fabulously wealthy represented the `carrot' that people strived for. Similarly, in travels abroad to Ecuador, Zambia, Thailand, etc, I consistently noticed extremely happy people with very low energy usages.

Everyone has wants and needs. The wants can never really be satisfied, irrespective of energy use (look at Donald Trump or Tom Cruise). The needs are what are most important. This is an encouraging point to be aware of in the years leading up to and following Peak Oil. More is not necessarily better. Less is not necessarily worse. Perhaps, through education, marketing and living by example, society can slowly modify the definition of the `carrot', to one requiring less energy but providing equal or greater happiness.

Great Analysis LS.

You need a certain amount of energy to rise above subsistence, but then most energy consumption is a function of convenience (trading energy for time/less effort), living situation (choice of dwelling), diet (heavy on meat or not) and primary transportation mode (car vs. walk/bike/mass transit) or as you say "lifestyle".

Another factor to add in as we search for the mythical "perfect" place is income and war.

A study was done in the recent past that analyzed wars, many of them civil wars, and the conclusion was of about 40 odd conflicts, only two (one was involving modern day Serbia as I recall) involved nations where the per capita income was over $3500. So if you give a person/family a "stake" - a chance or a position, well, you do the math.

In my local County Supervisor race, I was doing some research and one local political point (remember, all politics is local) was that if there was a conflict between party affiliation and a person being a homeowner, the homeowner part of a person usually won out over party affiliation.

The Last Sasquatch should also note that culture is a big factor too. I suspect Thai's are generally more happy than say, Ukrainians, though the latter have a higher income. Some of that is culture or national identity and some of it is not having to live where there is a lot of snow.

So if you give a person/family a "stake" - a chance or a position

Such was noted in the book 'hackers' by steven levy.   If you gave the people who were causing trouble on your computer system a job in the computer center, for most, the behavior stops.

In the US of A, the myth is 'anyone' can be president.  There are a bunch of maxiums about hards work getting one ahead et la.

The reality is - the welfare system places many people in a stakeholder position.  For cheaper than placing them into the prison system.   When the effects of peak oil hit and the welfare system as it exists it trashed, I have little faith in the finding of another 'stakeholder' idea in America.

There are two arguments I'd like to flesh out on this, but I won't have the time to do it tonight, as I am on a deadline for a manuscript that's due back to an editor tomorrow which I have no chance in hell of completing in time...but this is much more interesting.

but I'll at least mention that there's a lot more we can do with Inglehart's post-materialism (do a google search on inglehart postmaterialism energy, and you'll get the gist on the sociopolitical ramificiations and theoretical assumptions of Inglehart's work, which is some of the best in comparative political science over the years...of course, that means that means that many have ripped it apart, but it's better to be talked about than not as an academic...&laugh&)

Second, I think this also relates to something we discussed here way back in the beginning about Putnam's social capital argument (link here).  The decline of social capital in America is one of the endogenous effects going on in this relationship, and something to be considered when talking about social connectedness and happiness.

Finally, a methods question: How does one operationalize happiness? &chuckle&  (I ask that semi-rhetorically, as there's a few problems with the WVS self-assessment question in my opinion...and those measurement and conceptual problems tie into Putnam's argument (as well as Huckfeldt and Sprague, as well as others) as well as a few other sociological and political science theoretical perspectives I'll not bore you with.)

sorry, here's the link to the Putnam post (and references) here if you're interested:
and here's a link to an interesting paper (to me) on a revision of Inglehart's measure with a lit review/history of how it's been used and developed (from a University of Hamburg shop that does a lot of postmaterialism and sustainable development work...warning very comparative political sciencey, but lots of listings of other papers and resources, as well as interesting data at the end that I don't have time to process at the moment).

It is important to note that the writer of the post has a very good point that just misses the mark, and, in fact, actually states the real problem then moves on to a not trivial subject.

As a buddhist, I know that happiness is not related to the material world except that you are hungry, tired, or in pain, and even that can be overcome (the additional psychological pain we inflict on ourselves on top of actual real world input).

What he skirts here is stated right up front with the simple statement "Our genetically embedded drive for `more' coupled with an expanding world population of 6.5 billion suggests a finite limit for growth will eventually be reached, if it hasn't been already." The problem is a matter of population, the drive for more, and other biological imperatives. We hit the carrying capacity some time ago, probably at one billion people, and no amount of wishful thinking can undo that. The sad truth is the human population must be reduced either by social engineering or it will happen in much crueler fashion through war, disease, and famine. The happiness quotient will probably be of little interest to those who are merely trying to survive with few survival skills. They may actually be happy in the moment, but the chances for physical pain and for death will clearly be increased come peak oil.

I am a firm believer in the idea of living in the moment and not letting the monkey brain make a bad situation fantastically worse, but we must acknowledge that we need to decrease our footprint, and we must start now.

I saw all this coming way back in the 1970s, when I incessantly studied energy, environment and population issues. I decided then not to have kids, because even 25 years ago, I believed it was ethically irresponsible.

I haven't missed the kids a bit; instead I work with the Partners program and help tutor kids (and they all know about peak oil!}

A big topic in the 1970s was "appropriate technology." Build passive solar homes. Pump water with solar or wind. Recycle clothings and tools. Ride a motorbike instead of driving a 4WD SUV to the coffee shop ...

In a way, we've lost our connection and love for simplicity and thrift.

My wife and I don't have biological kids either.  We did openly adopt two children.  We have nurtured the relationship between our children and their birthmoms, and have watched their birthmoms grow and mature into terrific, confident adults while maintaining a positive connection with their biological children.

I agree that we need to reduce population, and agree that this will not be easy at all.  There are some "rational" or at least "rationalistic" approaches to this which on the face of it sound better than the apocalyptic approach of letting resource depletion, war, disease, and so forth reduce population.

While we work toward population control I want to emphasize the importance of nurturing the next generation.  Paradoxical at best?

I think it is FAR too late for "social engineering" and Mother Nature's Natural remedies (you mention) will be used again.  I do not bet against history when Homo Sap say's he can make a new wave.  "Different this time"  is correct only in the rhyme, but not likely the mechanims of population reduction.  Manz is just a little peon and is not at all capable of social engineering on the scale or speed necessary to adjust now.  Mother Nature will do the culling for us.  Batten Profoundly Local hatches as Kunstler et. al. would say.  Mother Nature expects Us to Not depend on the Central Planners this timezUp.
I don't have the references, but at least twice in the last year I have seen articles that have describe Africans as happy and optimistic -- and yet most have nothing. Well, community is something, I suppose, if you want to count that.

Yes, I saw that too. A friend commented on Africans feeling optimistic was due to there is no way ahead but up. Economically, most of the 3rd world is moving up, even if in small and halting steps.

Don in Colorado is obviously, like me, a throwback to the 60's and 70's. You still remember the Charlton Heston movie Soylent Green? I made the decision to have just one kid back than, and it worked out well.

The old novel ECOTOPIA advocated a population for California of 1 million and that sure makes sense today. But social engineering, and that is what you are advocating, has to be done in the context of the Constitution. Unfortunately you can not get to far out in front of the mass of humanity, or you will be simply a footnote for some future historian. You can be very correct in what you advocate, but you have to persuade people first, and remember we are arguing against Rush Limbaugh.


I have a brother visiting from Humboldt County who says they're implementing Ecotopia even as we speak. Something to do with certain buds and a whole new economy ...

Wouldn't only a million people in California be wonderful?

Look at Stuarts figure #1: practically all of those countries left and down are former Socialist countries. If you remove those from the graph, you get much more clear correlation between GDP per capita and happiness. Common to those countries is an experience of a deep economic crash. When you are going down you don't feel very happy. Nigeria is left and up - oil and gas is bringing some economic upward trend.

Besides, the horizontal axis should be median income - we don't  weight happiness answers with persons income.

From the experience of the former Socialist countries we can conclude that we will not be happier after the Peak Oil induced recession.

And every marketing expert will tell you that people don't always behave like they say. Perfectly happy people will still try to get more income, even if it seems that they cannot be more happy.

I appreciate the effort to explore the relationship between happiness and "having more or less" but I do wonder about the methodology behind the graph as well.

For example, who was interviewed in nigeria and how?  Were people who have been displaced by the oil and gas industry in the Niger Delta interviewed?  Were top officials in the corrupt government or industry interviewed?

For country after country what seems to matter is the particulars of individual life stories and situations within the context of that county's larger economic story.  Add to this the possibility that other "larger" narratives -- religion, faith in progress, hope for some specific reward or betterment -- can make a difference in one's happiness.

I agree that wealth does not make one happy!  I agree that we need to explore the topic like this.

What are the premises we bring to the discussion, and are we aware of them?  How do our premises affect our conclusions?

The Nigerian interviews were done in 2000, before the oil price spike and evidence of social unrest. You can play around with the data yourself at worldvalue website. The total 1999/2000 wave above included in depth interviews and surveys from over 98,000 people. I dont think asking someone how happy they are is the final arbiter on if they really are or not.  But social scientists tell me this was one of the better done, scientifically approached surveys of its kind. I was more interested in the broad brush trend of happiness/energy. As Prof Goose states, social capital is indeed very important -

I suspect perceptions of happiness have much to do with self-comparisons versus a recent baseline- how ones life is versus how it was a few years ago - so perhaps the 2005-6 wave will show that former Russian countries are happier, since they had their energy drop off long ago, and have now equilibriated to it.

It does seem to me that TI's point is a very good one. That whole lower left leg of your figure is made of ex-communist countries who probably weren't too happy to begin with as they lived in communist dictatorships, and then had their happiness further enhanced by the collapse of their system.

I also note a few interesting relationships like Ireland > UK > Germany, and the whole thing makes me think it would be very interesting to look at the relationship of happiness to growth rate (in either GDP/capita or energy/capita). Given that humans have a strong tendency to get used to conditions as they are, changes in level could be more important to happiness than the actual level.

Given that humans have a strong tendency to get used to conditions as they are, changes in level could be more important to happiness than the actual level.

Good point.  There was a recent study done that found the wealthier you are, the less happy are.  (Assuming basic needs are met.)  The reason, the researchers claimed, was that the more you have, the less there is that can make you happy.  For example, I would be ecstatic if I won $50,000 in the lottery.  Bill Gates would barely notice.  

OTOH, they've also found that in the long term, we all have a "happiness setpoint" we tend to return to.  They studied people who had something wonderful happen to them, and people who had suffered something terrible.  For example, people who won the lottery, and people who got permanently paralyzed in an accident.  Good luck did make people happy for awhile, and bad luck made them depressed, but after about three years, they were back to normal.  The naturally happy were happy, the naturally crabby were not.

Stuart, this analysis used the mutually intersecting countries of the worldvalues site and the britishpetroleum data - there were far more countries in each but I only used ones that had data for both. With more time I could have found energy per capita for the entire worldvalues 1999/2000 wave.

Eventually Ill get to it

"and yet most have nothing. Well, community is something, I suppose, if you want to count that."

You sound like my 86 year-old-grandmother - and that is just about what she said when I asked, "and you guys still were happy and had normal lives even under THOSE conditions ???"

Our recent past was not that different from what we all could be living in the near future. Pockets of poverty (2nd-3rd world conditions?) will likely expand around the world and pockets of wealth will contract (first world).  The LOCAL Picture as Kunstler talks about is the most important to the individual.  But Most local pictures will likely get worse over time... especially in the Cities.  Look at the displacement of those masses like from N.O in slow motion - into the smaller towns... refugees you know or don't know (who look different?  sound, smell, feell...???)

"...For those of us who had no rural home, the only option was to go to Hopley Farm," Patience says."


    The Cause
of displacement varies but the Q for REFUGEES - Do they pass the "look, sound, smell..." test?  Or Birth-rights... "How long have YOU been a resident mr. Unfamiliar and stinking of the city?]

..."They didn't know where to put us, because we have no rural home," one woman explains."  ....who had one or both parents born ...reclassified as aliens...  "Some people were not even aware they were classified as aliens," one human rights activist says. The loss of citizenship has made the future still less certain for those who have lost their homes, particularly the younger generation.

Hi thelastsasquatch interesting post.

It think this kind of analysis misses a major point - Social Equity.

Although US consumes more energy per capita, Social Equity is not has good there as in Northern Europe, hence the higher satisfaction there. For instance life expectancy is much higher in Northern Europe than in the US, because there exists a universal medical care system.

That first graph should be pondered with some Social Equity indicator. I don't exactly how.

Still that 'boomerang' might appear, probably not so marked. But, is a Satisfaction rate linear by any means?

A better comparison would be with Canada, because at least in many respects, its culture is similar to the United States, and is economically similar, but with more even wealth distribution.

I don't recall the source, but I saw a credible poll that asked Canadians whether they preferred their safety net systems (health-care, retirement, etc) over the United States' system. Somewhere near 95% said they preferred Canadian systems. Then, people in the United States were asked to guess whether Canadians preferred their (Canadian) safety net or the United States' system. A thin majority of Americans thought that most Canadians would prefer a US-style system.

In other words, Americans have a misconception that Canadians are unhappy with their system. I would be willing to bet that most of us believe America to be the happiest country in the world.

Did you know that US is 37th country in the World in Life Expectancy?
Make that 48th!

My other source was outdated, look at it in The World Fact Book.

Some countries ahead the US : Bosnia, Jordan, Aruba, Martinique.

If you want to read a book about it, there is one which is also nice to read by prof Barry Schwartz: The Paradox of Choice: why more is less. (Go to Amazon and it shows up as the first hit)
I second that recommendation.  I found it a really eye-opening book.  See this article for a taste:

The Tyranny of Choice

It really seemed counterintuitive at first.  How could people who have more choice be less happy?  But that is what Schwartz found.  Not just for people choosing mutual funds or flavors of jam, but for people choosing spouses or jobs.  

Beautiful people who could have their pick of mates end up less happy in their marriages than average people.  The average people know they did the best they could, and are content.  The beautiful people are always wondering if they could have picked someone better.  The straight A student who had his pick of jobs is less happy at work than the C student who is grateful just to have a job.  

This probably goes a long way toward explaining why Nigerians are the happiest people on earth.

I've read such articles (but not the book, yet).  I think the choice thing has merit, but I think in some places (like beautiful people and C students) it might be just one of the variables.

I think an alternative explanation of what makes someone a "satisficer" (as opposed to a "maximizer") is that, having been through some rough times, you're happy with what you have.

If I wake up with a headache on Tuesday, I don't need a lot more than "no headache" to make me happy on Wednesday.

Nonetheless, I think the choice angle is an important one, and this is the kind of self-awareness that improves happiness (without necessarily, a new car purchase).

This is very true. But in the current paradigm if you got 'no headache' on Wednesday you might like to go 'heli-skiing' on Thursday.


LOL, I am way too much of a satisficer to ever go heli-skiing (a quick check shows $1K/day).
The relative versus absolute 'algorithm' in our neural structure is powerful in two ways:

1) In the sense of relative fitness, we cannot help but compare ourselves to our peers using what society deems as the 'standard' (currently => material wealth, historically =>seashells, wives, whale bone,etc - future =>best tomatoes, smallest energy footprint, etc). Its the Napolean complex on a societal level. One short on height, short on money, short on other things, etc feels the need to compensate...One current way to compensate is through ostentatious consumption

2)Our own happiness vs a baseline is not linear but geometric. I know as a money manager, the utility (happiness?) a client received by making 20% was far outweighed by the negative utility of subsequently losing 15%, even though they were ahead of where they originally started.

There is some research to suggest that each of us is genetically predisposed towards a certain level of general happiness, and lifes ups and downs create the range around the central value. For example, say on a scale of 1-100 that my baseline happiness is 60 and then I win the lottery, I might then be superhappy for a while (say 80), but then gradually would adjust my expectations (and complications) to eventually fall back to around 60.  On the other side, if I experienced some debilitating illness, my happiness quotient might plunge to 40, but after I came to terms with it, the rest of my lifes pursuits would equilibriate and Id gradually get back to 60.

A bag of rice to a starving Ethiopian might generate the same 'feel good' brain chemicals as a $500,000 bonus for a wall st trader. Its all based on our expectations, and our recent life history.

we cannot help but compare ourselves to our peers using what society deems as the 'standard'

I agree that is a tendency, but I think I made a conscious decision to get off the treadmill.  I mean, knowing what a hedonic treadmill is, we can decide to what degree we want to be on it.

BTW, I suspect that there is a natural age related cycle to status-gambits in consumption.  I think it's more natural in your 20's and 30's to see how far you can push ...

BTW, a little out of favor in mass-consumption societies, but the ancient answer to the treadmill is ...

Temperance (Sophrosyne in Greek) is the practice of moderation. It was one of the five "cardinal" virtues held to be vital to society in Hellenic culture. It is one of the Four Cardinal Virtues considered central to Christian behaviour by the Catholic Church and is an important tenet of the moral codes of other world religions--for example, it is one of the Five Precepts of Buddhism.
Sorry, that was from wikipedia: link
LOL!  Perhaps it takes something a little more serious than a headache to make a long-term difference.

Something that was recently on the news: gorgeous blond movie star Meg Ryan complained to Oprah Winfrey about how awful it was to be famous.  Oprah replied that she never felt that way.  She said she was born a colored girl in Mississippi, and it's made her very grateful for everything she has, including fame.

I wonder how much of unhappiness is due to unrealistic expectations.  They've found that American girls start suffering a sharp loss of self-esteem around when they hit puberty - when they start comparing themselves to the glamorous, airbrushed models and actresses they see in the media.  The exception is minority girls.  They do not suffer a drop in self-esteem, perhaps because they've known all along that they could not meet society's standard of beauty.  

Kind of makes me wonder if parents are doing their kids a favor when they tell them they can be anything they want to be.  I have one friend who's been so depressed for years she's been unable to work.  She's got a PhD in one of the hard sciences from Harvard, and a husband and family who are completely devoted to her, but she can't even get out of bed many mornings.  From what she says, part of the problem is her parents treated her like a princess (still do), and she can't deal with not being treated that way in the real world.

Perhaps you are right, maybe this is an American problem. Telling your children that "they can be anything they want to be" and that "your dreams can come true" and "if you want something hard enough you'll eventually get it" is "Disney ideolgy" for me. I really don't think people for the most part think like this in Europe.

Realistically, we can't all be millionaires, or super-models, or pilots. Statistically the numbers just don't add up! Of course all societies have created myths. Mythology serves many purposes in culture. The danger comes I think when we actually begin to "believe" that our mythology really "exists" in the real world.

The Greeks for example had an elaborate system of mythology, which they had a complicated relationship to. At the same time they developed "science" and mathematics and geometry, a very "concrete" ways of looking at the world of the real.

It might be some interest to Americans of a certain persusion to learn that "creationism" and scepticism in relation to "Darwinsim" has apparently spread to England. Recently some newspapers have been writing about students who are believers in "intelligent design". Apparently there are a growing number of medical students who are fundamentalist Christians and Muslims, who are questioning Darwin on purely religious grounds, not scientific. I remember reading one article where a teacher in a London school was amazed to find out that three quarters of her class in bilogy rejected Darwin in favour of the Bible!

This is pretty startling. Unfortunatley it also seems to support my feeling that we're moving back towards "magic" to explain the world.

America still has pretty good upward mobility.  Perhaps Europe has gained on us in this respect, but the big draw for folks from central America (etc.) is the ability to break out of rigid social/economic roles.

And Thomas Friedman is right about it being a significant change that Chinese and Indians find more mobility at home than they used to.  He may be hit and miss, but he hit that one before the mainstream noticed.

(I do not know if this is the worldwide influence of Disney movies ;-)

I wonder if this is a particularly American problem.  Part of our "personal responsibility" schtick.  Part of the reason people with a lot of choice are unhappy is that it means they have only themselves to blame if things don't turn out as they hoped.  If your company gives you a choice of 30 funds to invest in, and you end up losing money, well, it must be your fault.  You had so many choices, but you screwed up.  If the company only offers three funds, and you lose money, you can blame the company for not offering enough choices.  You're still out some money, but you're not blaming yourself.  
Many things are marketed on "maximization" and mutual funds are a perfect example of that.  It's all about how to choose the right fund (and the other thread on oil price prediction probably equally illustrates why there is no "right" fund).

So yeah, the marketing materials for mutual funds send us a message that we should be seeking an impossible maximization.  If we buy that, we feel responsible for our "failure."

I think you're on to something.

In graduate studies, I saw a lot of depressed folk. Went through a boute of it myself: I was lucky enough to get a pretty nice scholarship upon finishing my undergraduate degree. This meant I had my choice of institutions, supervisors, and topics. In short, I could spend two-years researching anything I desired without having to worry about money or resources. Two-years later, when I was six-months behind schedule and my scholarship was running out, I was struck by the realization that my lack of progress could only be my own doing. It hit pretty hard and took a couple of months to get over. I saw several other graduate students deal with the same issue over the (many) years I spent at a university.

There is comfort in being able to blame someone else for your problems.

There is comfort in being able to blame someone else for your problems.

Here's a great idea: let's all blame Bush for everything.

Its in a politicians job description, should work on any level.

In the tiniest local municipial level at home in Sweden  I am a member of the panel(?) for health and enviromental monitoring and issues such as restaurant hygiene, registration of CFC usage, inspection of private sewage treatment and so on. I use to remind the employees in the staff that if anything bad happens and there is some kind of disaster blame us politicians and send the media to us/me to take the blame. And between the lines, after that we will sit down and sort out what went wrong and correct the organization and procedures so that it never happens again. The hard part in that is probably to get good changes to stick for a long time and to fire people if there is need to change people in the staff. Fortunately it works well and the last three years have been fairly uneventfull.

As usual, an interesting, informative and provocative post. The following is all basically "headlines", as this is a very complicated subject, this isn't meant to be definitive, just thoughts. As I've mentioned previously, the Politics has raised it's head increasingly on this site, because it cannot be ignored. I think in the coming years the whole question of "equality" is going to bounce back with a vengence in our society. By that I mean, what principles do we imploy to devide increasingly scarce resources in a "democratic society". Basically are we going to do it through "dialogue" or "force"?

The whole question of "population" and economic/ecological "footprints" is way big! It's also a real minefield. James Lovelock has been talking about the poplation question recently. He too believes our popluation is far too high and real threat to our civilizaton. We then move on to who has the babies and where. Numerically this means the third world - poor people. Of course their "footprint" is small compared to ours in the developed world. Still, there are an awful of them! Countries like China and India aspire to emulate our standard of living in the coming decades. Lovelock thinks this is close to madness and an ecological disaster. Let us try to imagine hundreds of millions of Indians and Chienese with standards of living comparable to California. It's very difficult to imagine that this is possible don't you agree?

Never the less this is what China and India are determined to achieve and who can blame them? These great nations have for the last couple of centuries dreamt of returning to the positions of power they occupied before the rise of the West. Don't they have the "right" to be a rich as we are? The question is, of course, exactly where is this extra wealth going to come from? Where do we suddenly conjure another planet from to supply their needs?
Are we going to let them? Are we going to fight like hell to keep what we've got?

This is turning into a bit of a ramble, sorry.

I'll just finish by mentioning that Great Britain did not accept the rise of German economic/military power by offering to share it's markets/wealth. The two countries were on a collision course and eventually vertually destroyed each other in the process. I'm not saying this fate is ours. I don't believe in historical imperitives and I'm not, I hope, a vulgar Marxist who sees war as inevitable between competing capitalist "empires". However, I do feel we are entering a period of great stress and instability, and we're going to need political leaders of the highest quality imaginable if we're to avoid making the same mistakes and realeasing the same uncontrolable forces as we have done in the past.

Thanks lastsasquatch. No surprise here.Eugene Dubiois (sp?) 70's Only One Earth quoted studies that similarily related size of living  space to happiness with same basic conclusions; minimums but cultures like Japan faired as well as others.
Interestingly when studying food production/ pop. usually most measures are in /per capita; not something we see much re energy.A value perspective I guess the world generally accepts.
I do counseling for a living and have worked with millionares & now community mental health; the top/bottom of income groups seem to have the most problems
Cherenkov's comments that genetic drives re pop. are right on. "Social engineering or war,disease, famine".
A good therapy book in this area is " How to want What You Have" Timothy Miller Ph.d. He uses a cognitive behavioral approach based on Aaron Beck"s work. In my experience it takes lots of personal growth to overcome/tame these drives.

 In Brown Power thread Peakguy wrote"I think the real questions should be what is the best use of different types of land to sustain human life as best as possible."
lastsasquatch responded "I agree.

Though a philosopher might transpose your question to 'what is the best use of different types of humans to sustain land life as best as possible'
 Obviously we better put ecology/carrying capacity as top priority; cause "more is not better" in this regard.

Re: per capita energy.  Peak per capita oil happened way back in 1979 - at about 2 liters (half a gallon) per person per day.  Since then, energy use in some countries (and some segments of society within countries) has increased.  That means that energy inequity is rising.  Bad news.
Is total production a good indicator, or is growth increase. I would theorize that happiness is very much tied with economic security and productivity.

Happiness goes down considerably in the United States when the economy's growth stagnates. The economy might be "producing" more than it did 5 years ago, but it isn't growing like it was 5 years ago, and because our economic security is tied to growth, not production, we feel insecure and unhappy.

So, I'd like to see a graph with economic growth on the X axis and happiness on the Y axis.

I read this Happiness and Public Policy blog.  It covers a lot of the ongoing news and studies.  I do consider the author (Will Wilkinson) to be a little too much of a "Cato guy" ... and suspect him of pushing GDP as a way to happiness a little bit hard ... but maybe that's just me.

Maybe the common ground he and I have is that ... for poor people wealth definitely matters, after that there are diminishing returns (with more and more wealth), and "Buddhist happiness" is a nice way to end run the whole problem.

In my opinion, anything that teaches humans to be happy will have the side effect of reducing material consumption.

Don't worry, be ... you know the rest ;-)

Stuart, THANK YOU for pointing out the hidden assumption behind most discussions about peak oil and alternatives: i.e., that we NEED to replace the energy lost to sustain our level of happiness. The unacknowledged presence (and belief in) this assumption has been a source of frustration for me in most articles about energy. Ecologically, if we were able to replace the energy lost, we'd just continue to grow population and consumption until the ol' earth just rolled over and shook us off. Already observors are talking about things like "peak fishing", and "peak freshwater". There ARE limits to what the earth will sustain in terms of resource drawdown. In terms of human population numbers, having abundant, cheap oil has supported a vast overshoot that cannot last a big decline in energy availability, just as it could not continue if the energy availability didn't decline. For then, other factors: freshwater, soil depletion, disease, etc. would become the limiting ones.
Not me - my only contribution to the enterprise was to cast thelastsasquatch's words and pictures into HTML.
In discussions about the impacts of Peak Oil, it is sometimes implicitly assumed that we NEED to replace the energy lost from the coming liquid fuels decline with other energy sources in order to maintain our way of life and our happiness.

Based on the sometimes fearful rhetoric of the Peak Oil community, it is presumed that less energy per capita is necessarily a bad thing.

I'm sorry LS, but I have to disagree that this is the general view of the "PO community". It may be the view of some, but people like Heiberg and the whole permaculture movement see powerdown as the key to future happiness.

designing food production, transport and housing to use a little energy as possible while maintaining high standards of well-being are surely the keys.

overpopulation is not an issue in most developed economies. Japan and some western European countries are already on a declining population path. stabilizing population in economically less developed places I think will be determined primarily by the level of educational opportunities available to girls and women. their is a proven inverse correlation between fertility rates and women's educational levels.

I think that once people become more PO aware, two stages will develop:

  1. We will try to push technology as far as we can to develop alternatives that aim to keep us at current consumption levels. This will happen because the people in charge will decide this is a priority, and money will be thrown to the car makers and electricity suppliers to make more efficient systems. This is what we (=Americans) know now, so of course we'll try to maintain it. A politician would never try to convince us that we should have less stuff. It's almost certainly wrong, given TLS's post above, but many people think that stuff is the key to their happiness and right now it would be political suicide to suggest otherwise.

  2. We very well may find out after what, a decade? 20 years? that there are no alternatives that scale to what we have now. At that time we'll go through a long period of discontent and strife (I take no stand on whether it'll be any kind of war or dieoff), and eventually our children or their children will take the "new" standard of living for granted since they never knew any better. It'll only probably take about a generation to stabilize to a lower energy lifestyle than we've got now.

Just a guess.

Fits my guesses / hunches pretty well.

  1.  The government has incentive to maintain status quo.  Most of US want to continue with status quo.  So the two are mutually supportive.

  2.  Reality, being what it is, will assert itself.  Kids born after we have hit steady state (what/whenever that is) will perceive their world as "normal", sans Arctic polar ice cap and all.
IMO, the best work here has not been done by the political scientists, nor by the psychologists (though the evolutionary psychologists have made some significant recent contributions) but rather by philosophers. Herewith, in abbriviated form, are some of their answers:

Socrates: More is not better. Happiness is going to the market place and walking by one stall after another and realizing that you do not need or want any of that crap. However, let it be noted that Socrates's wife, Xantippe, did not see things this way, and acording to one story dumped a chamber pot on his head and thought that he was not a good provider. (BTW, Socrates was one of the structurally unemployed--a stone-cutter by trade, he came home from the wars with the economy of Athens in ruins and got into long conversations with his well-to-do young friends because there was nobody buying cut stone anymore.)

Plato: The masses are asses who think that more stuff will make them happy. The philosopher kings, who know true goodness and happiness (synonymous, according to Plato) will own no private property, live frugal lives and even have wives in common. Well, that is the view he put forth in his extended thought experiment, "The Republic," but his mature and practical views were more complex and practical, as shown in his seldom read but very interesting, "The Laws."

Aristotle: A sufficiency of secure income is necessary but not suffiecient for happiness. Happiness is what all humans aim for, but few achieve it. To be happy, first we must be good ("virtue" in the Aristotelian sense), but then we must be fortunate as well. For example, King Priam of Troy was one of the best of men, but after a long and happy and good life he lost it all with the fall of Troy. Thus, call no man happy until he is dead. Happiness is multidimensional and depends on such things as having good friends and not being too ugly (though he made an exception for Socrates on this count). Incidentally, he remarked that neither children nor women can be "happy" because they do not have the autonomy to make the choices that result in happiness.

Epictetus and other stoics: Oooops, this post is getting too long. More later.

The American songwriter Rodney Crowell, who was Johnny Cash's son-in-law, having married Roseanne Cash, wrote a song about the Greek stoic Epictetus called, "Dancin' Circles Round the Sun (Epictetus Speaks). The song contains a number of quotes from Epictetus. Crowell has made three great albums lately. Containing a whole raft of very political songs. His lastest album "The Outsider" has some great stuff on it. Like "Ignorance is the Enemy" and the wonderful "Don't Get me Started" about the Iraq war and oil! There's real heart, head, and soul in these songs and performances. Sometimes when I listen to this kind of music, I feel that I'm intellectually a pessimist, but emotionally an optimist.
The line "Hapiness Returned On Love Invested" (HROLI) comes to mind.
"And in the end, the love you gain, is equal to the love you make."
I'm all for making love--frequently and vigorously. Quantity has a quality all of its own.
Don, I think I speak for all TOD'ers in saying that Im glad youre married. If not, we'd be hitting planetary overshoot all the quicker....
Oh my goodness, I have not been married since 1988. And furthermore, I see it as my moral duty to improve the quality of the gene pool as much as possible;-)

P.S. Forgot to mention the Coolidge Effect. It is real. And how can I say "No," to a beautiful young woman who desires my affections? What sailor ever has or ever could do that?

Fight Nature and you lose.

You are comparing apples (first world) and oranges (third world) here.  Note that in most third world countries the underclass comprises the bottom 80% of the population.  They are dirt poor and marginalized and out of the "mainstream".  I doubt the survey included people who don't own telephones.

Also, in countries like India even people with limited means have maids.  They can see that they are better off compared to their maid and the millions who live in shanties or on the street 5 minutes away from their home.  This would make them feel like they are "fortunate" even when they are less prosperous compared to those in the West.

Bottom line:  Take these surveys with a big pinch of salt!

When Dick Lamm was governor of Colorado, he lobbied constantly that "quality of life" was more important than "standard of living." He meant clean air, clear mountain streams and an untrammeled Front Range were more important to our happiness than a few extra dollars gained by turning the whole state into suburban tract sprawl and strip shopping centers.

He lost this argument, of course ...

and now Lamm has, shall we say, a "different" agenda?

After watching him all these years, I would say his fear of massive immigration grew out of his sense that overpopulation would destroy the American landscape.

Then it evolved into the Lou Dobbs' point of view about what mass immigration would do to our economy, standard of living and democratic values.

I wonder: Will having 300 million people be a plus or minus for America when the energy starts getting scarce? Will we need many, many more field workers if tractors become too expensive? Will native-born Americans start competing with Hispanic workers for manual labor jobs?

What a sociological experiment we're embarking on!

There is a major industry centered on Madison Ave. whose sole purpose is to make people feel unhappy if they don't use certain products or services. It starts working on us as soon as we can understand what TV commercials are telling us. Television in particular stirs up the envy in our souls and constantly shows us that we don't have what it takes to be happy. Few baby boomers can recall life without television. My father grew up in the 1930s in dire poverty in a small Michigan town and had a very happy childhood. Every kid he knew was in the same state of poverty but were happy because that's all they knew.
Economist Kenneth Boulding wrote that the first thing children learn from watchting television (commercials) is that for money, adults will lie to children.
I recently interviewed an MIT graduate, who's thesis was on the downsides of too much technology (and by implication, energy/resource consumption).  So he decided to live a low-tech life within the US.

Here's the interview:

I've been interested in how PO may cause people to be upset because their expectations are not being/haven't been met.  This upset can lower happiness and lead to knock-on effects because if it gets widespread enough the angry folks act out.  A downward spiral can ensue in a society.  

So part of my interest is in understanding how cultures deal with upsets and whether anything can be done to reset expectations quickly to mitigate for these.  

Don Sailorman writes:

Socrates: More is not better. Happiness is going to the market place and walking by one stall after another and realizing that you do not need or want any of that crap. However, let it be noted that Socrates's wife, Xantippe, did not see things this way, and acording to one story dumped a chamber pot on his head and thought that he was not a good provider.

Well, that's happiness when you are over-60 and have already bought 'all that crap' over and over again.

Problem is that every young man who wants to 'score' with a quality female is going to have to have access to an over-average energy flow (i.e. earn more money). That's why all this 'voluntary simplicity' philosophy will never work. Try wooing an attractive girl if your only means of transport is a bicycle.

Perhaps it works in China ...

Ahem, I am not one to brag;-) but believe me,
1. A guy with a small used single-cylinder motorcycle can get all the high-class poontang anybody could desire.
2. Biking guys go fast with biking girls--get hot and sweaty regularly.
3. Sailing instructors seldom make much money . . . partly because so much of their energy goes into GAS (Great Aerobic Sex) with their female sailing students.
I walked for an attorney in law school who could have passed for Lee Haney, the 7 time Mr. Olympia bodybuilding champion. He drove the crappiest car you had ever seen but did great with women. I think the reason he "got away with it" was because it was obvious from his look and job that he "had it going on", as they say. Thus he didn't need the nice car. But most guys aren't six-two black guys with six pack abs six-figure incomes.



Have you studied the sex lives of leaders of religious cults? You, the Alphamale Prophet are surrounded by devoutly adoring females who are eager to get the evening nod and compete to pleasure you and bear your babies.

Cleverly, you recruit only Beta and Gamma males into your new religion, so as to have no effective competition.

Be eclectic. Steal from whomever you want in your "revealation," and note that the most successful cultists, such as Mahomet, go on to great reputations in future centuries.

Forget blogging, religion is the way to go for maximimum income and sex.

Despite the comments about alternative lures, I think low income is going to turn off a certain portion of potential mates.  Not always, but enough to make it tough sledding.  The first Utne Reader I ever saw had an article (perhaps 1991?) about how women tended to find men with higher incomes than themselves, leaving the really low income men generally ticked off.

As I've mentioned it before, historically a lot of men had no real prospects of marriage, sex or romantic love whatsoever because they had no prospects of owning property or inheriting a position.

Women generally marry up, men marry down.  The flip side is that very successful women often have difficulty finding mates, just as very low-income men do.  One reason women with PhDs tend to have fewer children than their less-educated sisters is that many of them don't even marry.

Though there are signs that this is starting to change...perhaps due to increased acceptance of women who outearn their husbands.

This is a subject that I am far, far from having any expertise on, but the previous comments somewhat run counter to what my son (late twenties) has told me on more than a few occassions.

His contention is that many very attractive females are attracted to the most vile and obvious pieces of crap  you can image. He's not sure whether it's self-destructive; or whether it's to feel superior to the guy who's an outright loser; or whether it's some sort of mother instinct compelling them to pick up stray dogs.You can always feel superior to someone whom you feel needs your help.

In any event, he maintains that it is a total mystery as to how modern-day females chose males. Not surprisingly, he has not done well in this area, despite the fact that he is far better looking and better built than many of the so-called 'chosen males'. In any event, I am sure glad that I am past the age where I need to worry about having to find a mate.

Tell him to get involved in a little theater group or take acting lessons. Ever since I was taught (at age 13) the Stanislavski method by someone whose name you might recognize from Broadway, my life has changed most marvelously for the better. Actors seldom are lonely.
True, but the personal lives of most actors are hardly anything to be admired.   In fact,  the personal lives of most of them are a real mess.

Vapid, egocentric silly children is how I would best describe many of them. The ones who succeed are probably the  worst abitious grabby ruthless people you'd ever want to meet,  though I'm sure there are lots of exceptions.

The artist as the person is rarely as interesting and inspiring as the artist as the artist. The two should remain separated.

I once had this idea that for anyone to get a book published he/she would be forced to remain anonymous. Thus, when you read a story, you would not be able to tell if it was by John Cheever, Ernest Hemingway, or Joe Schmo. The author would only be identified by a numerical code known only to whomever was running this thing.

This would inject a welcomed level of honesty among critics, as they wouldn't know who to suck up to and who to put down. Personality and celebrity would be completely removed from the art.

Think it's a good idea?

the problem of having books by "Anonymous" is that once I find a favorite author, I do not want to miss any of their books. Here are some of my favorite authors, and yes, I could identify any of their work even with name off it.
1. Patric O'Brian
2. Frances Chichester
3. Arthur Ransome
4. Isaac Asimov
6. Plato
7. Mark Twain
8. Jane Austen
9. Dostoyevski
10. Balzac

Also I can give you a list of authors whose books are so bad that I would pay money if I had to for the privilege of not reading them:
1. John Grisham
2. probably about eight of the other top ten best-selling authors

Gresham's law operates in books; the trashy poorly written fiction with sex and violence tends to drive out works that are truly good. In nonfiction, the simple-minded "Here is how to succeed in business with no brains or effort" type of book is a perennial best-seller, along with books that promise fitness and weight loss with no effort and no hunger.

To think that trees have to fall to publish such trash . . . .

I was so glad Jack Aubrey made Admiral.  I'm hoping I have the chance to read the series again.  They're an amazing account both of what can be accomplished through human exertion, and of the enormous cost in lives that is generally exacted.
Ummm, I just wrapped up a show on Sunday ... :-(

Actually, I only occasionally act, I prefer to build the sets, and I can understand your point of view.  Today one of the leads emailed us all a review by "a friend" in which he was lauded over and over while none of us were even acknowledged.

So I'd say work backstage and meet the supportive types.  I met my wife backstage at The Wizard of Oz.  She looks good in black.

Now how do I get this back on topic ...  oh yeah, we're looking for a name for her soap.  Slow Squeeze Soap?  Sustainable Soap?  The Soap Hits the Fan?

Backstage women are hot. Makeup girls are hot. Female directors are hot. Even the women fundraisers and patrons are hot (Bialystock and his old ladies in "The Producers") notwithstanding.) After TEOTWAWKI amateur drama will boom.

My favorite roles were as Dion Kapakos ("The youngest dirty-old man in town") in "Critics Choice" and Caesar in Shaw's "Androcles and the Lion." Type casting in both cases;-)

If you live in Texas, be sure to vote for Kinky Friedman.

Figures - my first guest post and the thread devolves to a sailors sexcapades....

seriously though - Don shoot me an email if you get a chance - I am writing a synthesis on Sociology and Evolutionary Psych and would like your advice on the outline.

Ah.  That scenario is not unique to modern females.  "Nice guys finish last" is something men have been complaining about forever.  

That is in fact a classic theme in romance novels.  Beautiful young heroine is being courted by a nice but boring guy who treats her right, and by a, dashing rake.  She alway chooses the jerk.  I think it's a female power fantasy.  The belief that the love of a good woman can redeem a rake.  Hence all those women who want to marry serial killers.  

I think that's actually a pretty small percentage of women, though.  Most quickly find out that bad boys are more fun in fantasy than in reality.    

I guess that's true now, but in the classic romance novel, a young middle-class woman is tempted by a rakish, but somehow unsuitable man, and almost succumbs, but returns to the proper fellow by the end of the story.
This business about how the Shallow-Hal nerds should pick up the hot babes is way off topic. Suffice it to say that there are people who make loads of money teaching nerds how to do the Hitch thing. Read "The Game" by Neil Strass for example.
But that is kind of the general point here.  Womens behavioral algorithms respond to cultural signals of a)reproductive fitness (washboard abs) and b)ability to provide for offspring. The combination of these 2 things are attractive to single females (other things are attractive to males)

Society is currently telling us that 'money' (cars, job, house, etc) is the most correlated link to ability to provide. But if we change culture (or if it changes organically), the definition of fitness may move away from material goods and towards ability to produce food, do MacGyver type home repairs, chop wood, fight, etc.

Money is not the ultimate evolutionary goal, the feeling of relative fitness is. Genes give us the framework, society gives us the target. Eventually, maybe soon, females at the margin will choose farmers over bankers, and then at the margin some bankers will choose to be farmers and then we have a revolution.....

May I suggest that Richard Rainwater's buying and building a huge survival farm in the American SE may be the start of this trend? This guy is not dumb by any stretch of the imagination.  If he has a six-pak going-- he will have a harem coming.

By the way, excellent recent thread with Jay Hanson at Dieoff_Q&A!

Bob Shaw in Phx,AZ  Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

I have questions for you, Bob.
My thinking exactly!  That's why many of the back to the landers, rugged males with useful basic skills types are kinda saying "bring it on" when they hear about Peak Oil.

Not that I think they really know what is coming.  But it does seem to place them in a role reversal for alpha male contention.  

Some of those "back-to-landers" are little more than squeaky soldier-of-fortune types who will be probably tripping over themselves and the masses slowly escaping the cities for the country - finding those loners as they make the Exodus.

Also, Sasquatch said, "But if we change culture, the definition of fitness may" change reminds me immediately of one female character in Lucifer's Hammer .   She suddenly found her old boyfriend's friend Atractive when it turned out he was confident and in control under crises while her boyfriend seemed weaker and confused...

"It can be seen, that at low levels of GNP, happiness is lacking, but once a certain level of GNP is reached, incremental income per capita adds very little to subjective well being."

AFTER the inflection point he calls it "lifestyle" but maybe "Rat Race" might be more appropriate. Marketing in the Reality TV world Tells people what their latest "needs" are and they work harder to get the credit to buy the newest "needs."

MANz Bites Man

And then promptly eats him alive.

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