The Climate-Change Trip to Abilene

Climate change is not the biggest problem facing the world. It is a symptom of the much larger problem of overshoot. Overshoot means that humans are using natural resources and polluting at rates beyond the planet’s capacity to recover.

The main cause of overshoot is the extraordinary growth of human population made possible by fossil energy. Concerns about overshoot and population raised more than 40 years ago were dismissed. Climate change has captured public awareness more recently although many doubt that it is an emergency.

Overshoot is more difficult to dispute: the destruction of rainforests, the extinction of other species, the pollution of land, river and seas, the acidification of the oceans, and loss of fisheries and coral reefs.

Figure 1. Pollution. Source: depositphotos.

The world is now two years into a pandemic that has fundamentally altered the global economy and our most basic human need for social interaction. Yet few realize that Covid is just another symptom of overshoot—the distress of our planet’s ecosystem.

Our default solution to pandemic, climate change and population growth is technology: vaccines, new energy and ways to boost the planet’s food and energy supply. Although technology helps to alleviate the symptoms for awhile, the underlying malady remains.

Climate change cannot be fixed with renewable energy and electric vehicles.  Substantial reductions in population, energy use and consumption are the only answers to climate change and its cause, overshoot.

Energy Is The Economy

Population is the currency of evolution. Growth is not some frivolous, uniquely human behavior. There seems to be a genetic imperative for all species to increase their numbers. Those with the best access to highly productive sources of energy grow the most. Those that are able to adapt with larger populations live and those that are not become extinct.

Energy is central. Any movement, activity or event in nature requires energy. Energy is and always will be the currency of life.

Figure 2. Savanna kill. Source: depositphotos.

Like all life, humans work to live. Work requires energy.

Early man hunted and foraged, and ate other animals and plants for energy. Later, humans turned to agriculture for meat and grain. Because these could be saved for future use, surplus energy became part of human society.

Those with surplus energy could bargain with others to do some of their work in exchange for energy—grain or a farm animal. Eventually, this barter system developed into currency. Money is a claim on energy.

Most people think that the economy runs on money. It doesn’t. It runs on work which requires energy. The economy runs on energy. Energy is the economy. Oil is the primary source of energy today therefore, oil is the economy.

Overshoot: The Population Bomb

From the advent of agriculture until about 1700, the work of human society was done by human and animal labor with some help from biomass—mostly burning wood for heat (Figure 3). Over the next 250 years, coal became the dominant energy source as machines began to do work previously done by men or animals. The steamship and locomotive revolutionized transport and promoted the settlement of vast, empty areas of the earth. This and increased mechanization of agriculture produced a step-change in human population from about 600 million in 1700 to more than 1.5 billion by 1900.

Better access to concentrated energy led to a 2.5-fold increase in population.

Figure 3. Coal age 1700-1945 and oil age 1945-present resulted in major population growth. Earth’s carrying capacity before fertilizer was approximtely 2 billion people. Population is the root cause of most global problems. Source: Our World in Data, UN & Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.

The liquefaction of air in 1910 by Haber and Bosch made free nitrogen abundant and, by the end of World War I, industrial-scale fertilizer production began. Food supply multiplied. By the end of World War II, oil began replacing coal as the principle source of energy. That and continued mechanization of agriculture allowed the world population to increase from about 1.85 billion at the end of World War I to its present level of about 7.8 billion.

A more concentrated form of energy led to a 4.2-fold increase in population.

Humans were able to increase the carrying capacity of Earth but at a price. Today, man and his livestock comprise 98.5% of earth’s total biomass.  The world’s forests and wild grasslands have decreased by 2.4 times the area of the United States since 1900 (Figure 4).

Figure 4. World forests and wild grasslands have decreased by 2.4 times (2.36 billion hectares) the area of the United States since 1900. Source: Our World in Data & Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.

Forests have decreased 1.1 billion hectares and wild grasslands have decreased by 1.25 billion hectares. Wildlife populations have decreased about 60% over the last 50 years as habitats were eliminated.

The world has used half (51%) of all the oil ever produced in just the last 25 years (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Since 1997, the world has used 51% of all the oil ever used. Source: Our World in Data, BP, EIA & Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.

This is overshoot and population growth is the root cause. Climate change is just collateral damage.

The Slow Truth About Energy Transitions

Oil, natural gas and coal make up almost 80% of the world’s primary energy consumption today. Despite the excitement about renewable energy, wind and solar account for only about 7% of the world’s energy use.

There is no analogue in human history that supports the idea that society can increase renewable energy from 7% to 100% in 30 years. Not even close.

EIA’s most recent forecast predicts wind and solar will increase from 7% today to about 19% of world consumption by 2050 (Figure 6). Petroleum will decrease slightly from 30 to 28%, natural gas will fall from 24% to 22%, coal from 26% to 20%, nuclear from 5% to 4%, hydroelectric from 4% to 3%, and biomass will increase from 4% to 5%.

Figure 6. Wind and solar expected to increase from 7% to 19% of world energy by 2050. Petroleum to decrease from 30% to 28%, natural gas from 24% to 22%, Coal from 26% to 20%, Nuclear from 5% to 4%, Hydro from 4% to 3%, Biomass 4% to 5%. Source: EIA & Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.

If that seems pessimistic, it’s because many analysts compare renewable energy growth for electric power generation—not total energy use—and there, the percentages are higher.

Figure 7 shows that wind and solar are expected to increase from 17% to 46% of world electric power generation by 2050. EIA forecasts that natural gas will decrease from 22% to 15%, coal will fall from 37% to 24%, nuclear from 11% to 9% and hydroelectric power from 10% to 7%.

Figure 7. Wind & solar expected to increase from 17% to 46% of world electicity by 2050. Natural gas to decrease from 22% to 15%, coal from 37% to 24%, nuclear from 11% to 9% and hydro from 10% to 7%. Source: EIA & Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.

Perhaps EIA’s forecasts are too pessimistic. Double them and although more than 90% of electric power will be generated by wind and solar, electric power will account for less than 40% of all energy consumption.

To make matters worse, electric power generation from all sources—including coal and natural gas—is only expected to increase from 30% to 41% by 2050 (Figure 8). It’s hard to envision a nearly 100% renewable world in which electric power does not account for even half of our energy demand.

Figure 8. The problem with running the world on renewable electric power: Electric power is only expected to increase from 39% to 41% of total energy consumption by 2050. Source: EIA & Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.

These forecasts—like all forecasts—are wrong but they notionally reflect the reality that energy transitions take a long time. No matter how much we may want things to change faster, history and human behavior suggest we will be disappointed.

The widespread idea that electric vehicles are a big part of reducing carbon dioxide emissions is confusing. Cars account for about 15% of global emissions (Figure 9). That’s worth reducing but is hardly a solution to emissions.

Figure 9. CO2 emissions by sector. Source: IEA and Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.

Not All Energy Sources Are Equal

Energy transitions have always involved moving from a less productive to a more productive (higher energy density) source of energy. Coal contains 40% more energy per unit volume than wood and oil contains about 80% more energy than coal (Figure 8).

Figure 8. Energy density explains why we prefer coal over wood and oil over coal. Coal has 40% more energy than wood per unit volume. Oil has 80% more energy than coal and 150% more energy than wood. Source: Layton (2008) & Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.

The transition from biomass to coal took about 250 years and the transition from coal to oil has been going on for at least 125 years. It is unlikely that the next energy transition will take place much faster than coal-to-oil despite current expectations that the world will be 100% renewable in a decade or two.

It is easy to compare things like oil, coal and wood because we can burn them and physically measure how much energy is released in the form of work. It is more difficult to do that with wind or solar because we don’t burn them nor are their weights and volumes comparable to fossil fuels.

Power density offers a way to compare fossil fuels with wind and solar sources of energy. It is a measure of the energy flow that can be harnessed from a given unit area: the power (rate of work) in watts (W) per square meter (m2).  In simplistic terms, how does power from the area of a gas well compare to the power from the area of a solar installation or wind turbine?

If we think about power density as workers, it takes two coal workers to deliver the power of one natural gas worker (Figure 9). It takes 169 solar workers or 1,100 wind workers to replace one natural gas worker.

Figure 9. It takes 2 coal workers, 169 solar workers or 1,100 wind workers to equal 1 natural gas worker for the same electric power flow. Gas power density is 1,100 W/m2, coal is 550 W/m2, solar is 6.5 W/m2, wind is 1 W/m2. Source: Smil (2011), Layton (2008) & Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.

That doesn’t mean that wind or solar cannot replace natural gas for electric power generation. It simply means that a larger army of workers will be needed. In other words, a lot more area must be dedicated to wind and solar installations than to gas wells. That compounds—not limits–overshoot.

Renewable energy promoters claim that we can replace our current energy needs without fossil fuels.The triumph of technology may allow that but it will do little to end the ongoing ecosystem disaster.

“Without a biosphere in a good shape, there is no life on the planet. It’s very simple. That’s all you need to know.”
Vaclav Smil

The Trip to Abilene

The Abilene Paradox is a famous business school parable about what happens when a group makes a collective decision that hasn’t been thought out very well. It describes a family that decided to take a long drive to eat lunch in Abilene. It was a miserable, hot day and the lunch wasn’t very good. After returning home, the complaining and blaming began. It seemed that no one had really wanted to go in the first place including the one who made the suggestion.

Most people and governments want to do something about climate change but few understand energy well enough to make effective choices. Nonetheless, we are getting in the car and turning onto the highway that leads to Abilene.

Guidelines were agreed upon to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 at the recent COP26 meeting but no government agreed to cut its economic growth or population. In the most optimistic outcome, therefore, we will continue to overshoot earth’s ecosystem using more renewable and less fossil energy inputs.

U.S. envoy John Kerry’s comments are worth considering:

“I’m told by scientists that 50% of the reductions we have to make (to get to near zero emissions) by 2050 or 2045 are going to come from technologies we don’t yet have.”

We’ve agreed to do something that’s impossible without a miracle.

The reason for the “net” in Net Zero is because the outcome will not be zero emissions at all. Instead, a complicated system of carbon trades and credits will allow a “net zero” sum on the balance sheet. Carbon emissions will continue and, therefore, so will climate change and overshoot.

People understandably want to know the solution. The purpose of this post is to show that overshoot is the problem we must address. Any plan that includes continued growth is doomed to fail.

“We cannot solve climate change or other major symptoms of overshoot – biodiversity loss, tropical deforestation, overfishing, land and soil degradation, pollution of everything, the possibility of pandemics, etc., in isolation from the others. However, if we reverse overshoot, all its symptoms would be alleviated simultaneously.
–Bill Rees

We cannot solve anything until we understand the reality that we are in. That has to happen before any discussion of solutions is possible.

N.J. Hagens and D. J. White recently wrote, “Reality is (typically) not fun, but necessary to engage with. At the height of energy and material wealth, it has not been a priority for our culture to think in these complex ways—it makes our brains hurt and makes us uncomfortable and sometimes sad.”

Blaming fossil energy companies or anyone else is not particularly helpful or accurate. Blaming the species for its lack of foresight and planning may be accurate but is also not helpful. Disparaging the ineffectiveness of politicians ignores 5,000 years of written history in which this has rarely been different.

An energy transition is underway. Governments have created investment incentives to propel renewable energy growth beyond anything that international accords can accomplish. Those who believe the propaganda that economic growth will be stronger as the world shifts to renewable energy need to re-read the previous two sections of this post.

Human energy transitions have always involved going from a less-to a more-productive energy source. This trip to Abilene involves something that has never been done before—going from a more- to a less-productive energy source.

Oil is the economy. As we move away from oil, the world will become poorer. As living standards fall, mass immigration and civil unrest will probably increase. The oil age won’t end tomorrow but lack of capital will put it on a similar glide path as coal. Oil will get very expensive and that will do more to limit its use than regulation and legislation can accomplish. None of this will be fast enough to do much about climate change but neither will complaining and blaming.

Overshoot and climate change are not part of a morality play. This is not about good guys and bad guys.

We are following our genetic imperative for population and economic growth. It worked pretty well for a few thousand years but now it’s killing us. Some don’t even see that yet. Wherever the world is heading, let’s not go to Abilene again.



32 Comments

  • Tarun Grover

    Thanks so much Art for bringing sense in the chaos.

    • Evan Egenolf

      Hi Art,

      I have been enjoying your content for a few years now, starting with the Houston geological society talk on “Shale is a retirement party (paraphrase).” I think most your thesis are spot on and hard to argue against.

      I worked in E&P for 8 years (RE & EOR), and also worked on Department of Energy Research in Carbon Storage. The public’s misunderstanding of energy, how it’s produced, used, and its associative issues (i.e. overshoot, climate change, etc.) is pretty astounding. There is no way out.

      Politically, I think it is a no brainer to push green / renewable energy and the narrative that we can brute force our way out with “technology.” Academics get more funding, corporations sell more stock / projects, and politicians get to claim that they tried.

      Good article. At the end of the day I think society is going to confuse us vs. them and a narrative versus thermodynamics.

      Evan

  • Johan Landgren

    Hi Art!

    Thanks for a very well written and analythically crystal clear article! I definitely agree that climate change and indeed many other systemic crisis caused by humans are caused by overshoot. I wonder though, if the seemingly self regulating mechanism of Nature if you will, rebalancing the unbalance we’ve seen connected to different variants of overshoot through history of collapsing civilizations described so well in Joseph Tainters brilliant book “Collapse of complex socities” necessarily will have be the destiny of the global civilization of today? One could of course argue, which you allude to in the article above, that the pandemic for example, is merely a symtom and early sign of a collapse/rebalance… At the same time, if we think of a slow collapse which resets many ways we live, even how many people that can be sustained on the energy we have at our disposal, something new could evolve.

    During our conversations on the Evolution Show I recalled another guest on the show, a conversation I had with prof. Olle Häggström, on the risks of Artificial Intelligence. Prof. Häggströn is one of Sweden’s leading AI thinkers and also a brilliant mathematician (a wonderchild when he was young). He he is concerned about climate change and overshoot but in the short term even more so about the AI-risks. Häggström means that we are very naiive about the use and development of a Super AI, a general Artificial Intelligence or something remotely close that could be missused my a few ignorrant and egostic humans/companies. Perhaps we can hope for a general AI to be developed in time for it to steer humanity in a sustainable direction without it interpretating our initial instructions given to it by humans, in a for humanity fatal way! According to prof. Olle Häggström a general AI, smarter/more capable than the collective intelligence of humanity could be created in 20 years… then again it could take 50 to 100 years or never happen. The problem is we have to assume it will happen sooner rather than later, because we can’t pull out the plug later…Just like with overshoot, we don’t have a Planet B… At least not yet! 🙂
    All the best,
    Johan

  • Bohdan

    Great article, Art.
    I’m wondering how this adjustment (or great simplification as some call it) will be progressing. However what looks most probable to me is another shift to energy security paradigm where politicians, governments, financial market start appreciate diversity of energy sources.
    It might be accompanied by carbon taxes/ green washing costs giving some room for renewables (look at energy taxation in Europe for years now) but this field levelling has its own limits. We observe those limits with current levels of inflation and coming political upheaval in many places.
    It will be very interesting to observe how this new, lower level of net energy available to the humanity (lower due lower EROI of remaining fossil fuels and lower EROI of renewables) will be redistributed in the population and the economy (geographically, industry-wide, socially). Bioeconomy as defined by Ch. Hall may work in a long run but in the short-term people spend energy for many unnecessary ego-driven sinks (e.g. Egyptian pyramids). So in the short-run the neoclassical paradigm of economy would prevail. At this stage it looks like we still believe that an n-th app for meditation or a digital rock as an NFT might be a great idea to spend our limited energy on. I’m curious how long it will take to revalue what we desire now and where cuts of aspirations will transpire and how the redistribution will go.
    thank you for your work and a great communication of the ideas.
    Best,
    Bohdan

  • Outstanding article but what is your conclusion?
    I predict that fast-neutron reactors and renewables will displace thermal-neutron reactors and fossil fuels over the next fifty years, and wilderness reserves will be set aside to preserve as many plants and animals as possible.

  • Johan Landgren

    Hi Art!

    Thanks for a very well written and analythically crystal clear article! 🙂 I definitely agree that climate change and indeed many other systemic crisis caused by humans are caused by overshoot. I wonder though, if the seemingly self regulating mechanism of Nature if you will, rebalancing the unbalance we’ve seen connected to different variants of overshoot through history of collapsing civilizations described so well in Joseph Tainters brilliant book “Collapse of complex socities” necessarily will have be the destiny of the global civilization of today? One could of course argue, which you allude to in the article above, that the pandemic for example, is merely a symtom and early sign of a collapse/rebalance… At the same time, if we think of a slow collapse which resets many ways we live, even how many people that can be sustained on the energy we have at our disposal, something new could evolve.

    During our conversations on the Evolution Show I recalled another guest on the show, a conversation I had with prof. Olle Häggström, on the risks of Artificial Intelligence. (link here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1uEL6gOrln0&t)

    Prof. Häggströn is one of Sweden’s leading AI thinkers and also a brilliant mathematician (a wonderchild when he was young). He he is concerned about climate change and overshoot but in the short term even more so about the AI-risks. Häggström means that we are very naiive about the use and development of a Super AI, a general Artificial Intelligence or something remotely close that could be missused my a few ignorrant and egostic humans/companies. Perhaps we can hope for a general AI to be developed in time for it to steer humanity in a sustainable direction without it interpretating our initial instructions given to it by humans, in a for humanity fatal way! According to prof. Olle Häggström a general AI, smarter/more capable than the collective intelligence of humanity could be created in 20 years… then again it could take 50 to 100 years or never happen. The problem is we have to assume it will happen sooner rather than later, because we can’t pull out the plug later…Just like with overshoot, we don’t have a Planet B… At least not yet! 🙂

    All the best,
    Johan

  • edowne@newhaven.edu

    Hi Art
    Sobering message well thought out.
    I also would like to hear your views sometime on the fact that most of the oil reserves we will need in the future are in countries that are not necessarily our friends. Paraphrasing Tom Murphy, the physicist, let’s say oil goes from $50 a barrel to $100 a barrel. Countries with large reserves decide that they were doing fine (income-wise) at $50 a barrel so choose not to increase output (save our reserves for the future). Result: oil goes to $110 a barrel. High oil prices mean restricted discretionary income and demand as oil is a basic necessity in our society right now. Result: we lapse into recession. What are the political consequences of this? And who will be blamed?
    By the way, transitioning to so-called renewable energy is, as Murphy says, an enormous enterprise “requiring substantial energy investment.” I am afraid we are in some kind of energy trap.

    • art.berman

      Tom is a brilliant fellow but price formation doesn’t work like that. OPEC/OPEC+ has tried to do exactly what you are describing since 1960. The effect on oil price has been limited. There are a few exceptions but these were brief.

      Oil is the largest commodity market in the world. It cannot be manipulated for very long because no one has enough money to do that.

      Best,

      Art

  • Tamay Ozgokmen

    Great article!

  • Scott Allen

    Pretty much agree. Corollary: Conservation is still the lowest hanging fruit.

  • Geoff

    Art, you state:

    There is no analogue in human history that supports the idea that society can increase renewable energy from 7% to 100% in 30 years. Not even close.

    From compelling evidence I see, IF humanity cannot rapidly reduce human-induced GHG emissions as soon as possible AND find safe ways to begin large-scale atmospheric carbon drawdown to reduce atmospheric GHG levels below 350 ppm CO2 equivalent, THEN I’d suggest humanity is on the path to civilisation collapse later this century.

    On Jan 13, James Hansen, Makiko Sato and Reto Ruedy published their Temperature Update: Global Temperature in 2021. It begins with Figure 1 showing the global mean surface temperature relative to the 1880-1920 average, from 1880 through to 2021, followed by (bold text my emphasis):

    Global surface temperature in 2021 (Fig. 1) was +1.12°C (~2°F) relative to the 1880-1920 average in the GISS (Goddard Institute for Space Studies) analysis.[1,2,3] 2021 and 2018 are tied for 6th warmest year in the instrumental record. The eight warmest years in the record occurred in the past eight years. The warming rate over land is about 2.5 times faster than over the ocean (Fig. 2). The irregular El Nino/La Nina cycle dominates interannual temperature variability, which suggests that 2022 will not be much warmer than 2021, but 2023 could set a new record. Moreover, three factors: (1) accelerating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, (2) decreasing aerosols, (3) the solar irradiance cycle will add to an already record-high planetary energy imbalance and drive global temperature beyond the 1.5°C limit – likely during the 2020s. Because of inertia and response lags in the climate and energy systems, the 2°C limit also will likely be exceeded by midcentury, barring intervention to reduce anthropogenic interference with the planet’s energy balance.

    http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/2022/Temperature2021.13January2022.pdf

    Following the conclusion of COP26 conference in Glasgow last November, Breakthrough – National Centre for Climate Restoration published their updated document titled Climate Reality Check 2021 with an accompanying 3-minute explainer video.
    https://www.climaterealitycheck.net/download

    Rather than finding excuses to continue with a ‘burn now, pay later’ approach that propels us further along the path towards an increasingly more hostile planet Earth for human habitation, humanity urgently needs to find and deploy effective, timely ways to avoid the existential threat to many of civilisation collapse.

    • art.berman

      Geoff,

      I fear that you have missed the entire point of “The Climate-Change Trip to Abilene.” Overshoot is the problem; climate change is a symptom.

      All the best,

      Art

  • Luke Chester

    Not impressed. As a climate denier with vested interest in the continued use of fossil fuels, at least have the guts to be upfront.
    You’re thinly veiled denial (“and many people don’t agree that it’s an emergency “) might fool your fellowship of gasheads, but you’re clearly talking about yourself

    You’re ‘Reality of EV’s’ piece is at best wildly inaccurate and at worst blatantly dishonest.

    We are sick of fossil fuel trolls attempting to discredit the efficacy and necessity of renewables. Time for you to quit the ‘follow me, I know what I’m talking about’ bullshit and learn a little humility. Perhaps focusing on the well being of your grandchildren will help you prioritise.

    • art.berman

      Luke,

      It is impressive how well you ignore everything I write and then misinterpret it to fit your preconception of who I am. You should open a consulting business and invent a corresponding lexicon of bullshit words to describe your distorted understanding of me and reality.

      Best,

      Art

  • Russ

    On the topic of solutions. Suppose today’s billionaire oligarchs — i.e., the ones who direct world events — have actually convinced themselves that climate change is both real and advanced enough that nothing in the realm of traditional economics, individual behavior, or prospective technology can be done to avoid total calamity. What might they do?

    They might decide that the best way for them to: 1) reduce the worldwide use of natural resources, 2) reduce emissions of CO2 into the atmosphere, and 3) still maintain their control over the unwashed masses, is to drastically reduce the global population by means of a pandemic or two.

    To exert tight enough control over what would surely become a chaotic downsizing of civilization they would work to establish strict totalitarian rule in combination with mass electronic surveillance, all enforced by both militarized police and the kind of economic control that a central bank digital currency (CBDC) could provide. Are we seeing moves in those directions? Strict authoritarian mandates during the pandemic? Freezing of bank accounts in Canada? Digital Yuan in China? Flagrant censorship on social media?

    Personally, I’m also seeing a financial system that is about to fall apart. As more and more people become destitute in the coming downturn I can see the overlords “coming to the rescue” with a Universal Basic Income (UBI) program, administered through individual bank accounts that must be opened at the central bank. You must have such an account, and accept your UBI benefit in central bank digital currency, in order to participate. Voila. The beginnings of a centralized banking system in which the government can control, for good or ill, all personal transactions.

    How can I spend my UBI benefits, you may ask? No problem; a central bank debit card comes with each account. Next step? Require a central bank account in order to receive Social Security benefits as well. Then outlaw all competing digital currencies, such as bitcoin. Then retire all paper and coin currency. And so on. Fanciful? Perhaps. Worrisome? For sure. “We noticed that you recently criticized the President on Facebook. You will not be allowed to buy food or gasoline for three weeks, beginning tomorrow morning.”

    Maybe covid and climate change are being used as convenient vehicles for installing world-wide totalitarian rule. Maybe THAT is the real end game here. “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

    Unfortunately, whatever path is taken, I think it will likely flirt with the risk of starting a nuclear WW3.

  • In one of the Harry Potter movies (sorry) the head of the school says, “Your involvement is a total secret, so, of course, everybody knows about it”, your essay (brilliant in stating the obvious that’s staring us right in the face) made me reflect on that sentiment, changing it to “everybody knows it’s true, therefore, no one believes it”. You are the most astute, and concise commentator on the energy problems we face than ANYone else, so thank you so much for making your writing available to those of us who can’t use it for self enrichment, but can use a voice of reason that rises above the maelstrom of verbal chaff propagated by madmen hungry for profit ….ie the Corponations.

  • Vince Matthews

    Art,
    Spot on. Congratulations on saying what most are afraid to say. Alarmists don’t want to hear it because they are deathly afraid that any discussion about the real cause of our problems being overpopulation will distract from their agenda, Virtually every major problem in today’s society goes straight back to overpopulation of the planet as the root cause. And you won’t be surprised to hear me say that it is not just energy, it is ALL natural resources.
    Vince

    • art.berman

      Vince,

      It surprises me that population remains such a controversial subject. I’m regularly accused of being Malthusian. I take that as a complement but of course it’s not meant that way.

      I suppose it’s because of the connection to growth. If a piece is pulled out of that Jenga tower, all of our sacred beliefs collapse with it.

      All the best,

      Art

  • Art,
    You have cut through all the noise to get to the hub of the problem. Climate change is real and a huge problem, but its merely a symptom.
    History will probably look back and refer to the era 1960-2030, as the golden age of human civilization. You and I will, unfairly, get off scot free.
    But our grandchildren are in for a hell of a time and I wish I could think of a realistic way this could possibly be avoided. But I can’t see the leaders and emerging leaders of today advocating for a degrowth agenda – we cant even implement an emissions reduction agenda! You only need to look at some of the responses to your tweets and posts to see how hopeless our situation is.
    So I follow the advice of Dr Bob Rich – do the best and most that you can and then dont worry. You have done your best. Art, you are doing your part.
    Regards
    Mike

    • art.berman

      Mike,

      Many thanks for your encouragement.

      Art

    • Florin

      Mike,

      You say: “History will probably look back and refer to the era 1960-2030, as the golden age of human civilization”
      I say, let’s hope there will be someone with enough time on their hands to even look back at history, regardless of what they might think. The way things are going, it doesn’t look likely.

  • […] measures how much a particular form of energy can flow from a given unit area. Art Berman recently explained what a shift from high density to low density energy sources means. In basic […]

  • Willy M Sierens

    Hi,

    this article and the comments are still very much rooted in a the prospect for a civilized world.
    With 8 billion we have massively overpopulated the planet during my lifetime (when I was born in 1949, we were 2.5 billion) .
    I myself have contributed with 3 children and 7 grandchildren!

    When food scarcity starts biting, it won’t take long before we resort to cannibalism.
    There aren’t enough caves to even survive as cave dwellers given our numbers.

    What will happen will fall in the realm of the physical possibilities, and cannibalism belongs to that category. I cannot imagine much else.

    rgds

  • Jeff Nelson

    Truth isn’t dismissive of uranium as you were to a prior commenter. Climate change predictions have been wrong as long as the public has distrusted uranium. But don’t let that keep you from framing the situation to suit whatever agenda you have. And why no mention of thorium salt? And according to data from NOAA, global climate has only increased 1° C in 100 years. Well wouldn’t you know it, we have been coming out of an ice age so remind me again of a time the climate didn’t change? By the way, global livestock numbers haven’t increased in at least 10 years (according to the UN). Having said that, I don’t think anyone denies that pollution is a problem. The problem is focusing on vague terminology such as “climate change” and philosophy rooted in nihilism (Malthus). Are you really going to tell your family to stop having kids?

    • art.berman

      Jeff,

      My comments on nuclear energy have little to do with climate change.

      Nuclear energy is only good for electric power generation and that is only 20% of total energy consumption. Nor is it expected to increase much between now and 2050.

      Nuclear power is like moving deck chairs on the Titanic. We can use it to replace some coal-generated power or as base-load for renewable but why bother when there’s plenty of natural gas at a much lower cost and faster capacity installation.

      I’m not against nuclear power. I just don’t see that it offers anything worth getting excited about and it’s certainly no solution to the 80% of total energy consumption that is not electric power generation.

      All the best,

      Art

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