Metacrisis: Getting Honest About the Human Predicament

Energy Aware

The world is in metacrisis. That means that many crises are occurring simultaneously and affecting one another.

This calls for rethinking the nature of problem-solving. Root causes should be identified rather than merely treating their symptoms. Traditionally, problems have been tackled in isolation. That approach has led to the metacrisis.

Although the exact origin of the term metacrisis is unclear, thinkers like Daniel Schmachtenberger, Jonathan Rowson, and Michael Every have discussed it extensively and brought it into wider attention.

The word crisis comes from the ancient Greek krisis meaning a turning point in a disease that leads either to recovery or death. The Greek prefix meta- means over or across. Metacrisis, therefore, means an ensemble of life-or-death situations that overlap and influence each other.

Figure 1 illustrates the overwhelming complexity of the world’s metacrisis. It is a web of systemic, interconnected, compounding processes. Broad categories including energy, environment, population growth and financial overshoot.

Figure 1. The Metacrisis is a web of complex, systemic, interconnected,
compounding processes.
Source: Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.
Figure 1. The Metacrisis is a web of complex, systemic, interconnected,
compounding processes.
Source: Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.

All of the processes are interconnected, and changes to one inevitably affect the others. Changing things without thinking about its cascading effects can lead to disastrous outcomes yet piecemeal changes have been the norm so far in society’s approach to problem-solving.

We want solutions but do we understand the problems we are trying to solve?

“How can we begin to fathom the future if we don’t understand the present? And that’s the point. We need to understand how the world works right now. And that means understanding the basics. And I just don’t think we understand the basics before we even get to the complex stuff.”

Edmund Conway

Attention must be placed first on the whole, not on the parts. That includes the natural world. It is the source of the resources including food that support human survival and prosperity. Disregarding the effects of our actions on nature is among the principal reasons for the metacrisis.

Climate change activism is a prime example of focusing on parts rather than the whole. Figure 2 shows an activist fixated on carbon emissions, which is just one aspect of climate change. Surrounding the circle are other issues like biodiversity loss, air pollution, and overconsumption.

Climate change is only a part of the larger environmental and ecological crisis. Focusing mainly or solely on carbon emissions overlooks the broader context which includes energy, the economy, society, and human behavior shown in Figure 1.

A holistic approach is needed that moves from the whole to the parts and back again. Otherwise, we are merely shifting problems from one area to another and probably making everything worse.

Figure 2. Climate change is a narrow view that looks only at one part of the whole.
Source: Jan Konietzko @FUTUREEARTH & Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.
Figure 2. Climate change is a narrow view that looks only at one part of the whole.
Source: Jan Konietzko @FUTUREEARTH & Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.

Even in the narrow case that only considers emissions, there is no evidence that the renewable energy transition has changed their upward trajectory despite thirty-six international climate conferences and trillions of dollars of investment over the last forty years. Global CO₂ emissions have increased +18 gigatons (+93%) since the first World Climate Conference in 1979 and +15 gigatons (+61%) since COP 1 in 1995 (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Global CO₂ emissions have increased +18 gigatons (+93%) since the first World Climate Conference in 1979 and +15 gigatons (+61%) since COP 1 in 1995. Source: Our World In Data, Stanford University & Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.

In fact, there is no evidence that an energy transition exists. Energy consumption and population continue to increase every year.

Historical data on world energy consumption from 1800 reveals an additive rather than a subtractive pattern (Figure 4). This means that new energy sources are layered on top of old ones, rather than replacing them. 

Today, both biomass and coal consumption exceed their 1800 levels, with renewable energy sources like wind and solar barely making a statistical impact. This underlines that, despite the estimated investment of about $10 trillion in renewables over the last twenty years, they are just a small addition to our ongoing conventional energy usage.

Figure 4. The world’s population increased from less than one billion people in 1800 to more than eight billion today. The increase in energy supply from coal, oil and natural gas made that possible.
Source: EIA, BP, IEA, FRED, OWID, World Bank & Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.

The popular idea that fossil fuels can be, and are being, replaced by renewable energy is false. There is no energy transition or green revolution. Wind and solar accounted for 2.4% of world energy consumption in 2022 – a zero-rounding error. There has never been replacement of one energy source by another. No energy source has ever been substantially reduced.

Population was 2.5 billion when I was born in 1950. It has more than tripled in my lifetime to more than 8 billion in 2023. Total energy consumption has increased more than 60-fold in that same period. Half of all historical oil consumption has been since 2000.

Growth is the problem. Carbon emissions are a consequence of the growth in energy consumption that has enabled the growth in human population and economic activity.

A barrel of crude oil contains the energy equivalent of about four-and-a-half years of human work (Figure 5). In 2023, the world used 84 billion barrels of oil equivalent from coal, natural gas and oil. At four-and-a-half years of work per barrel, that means that society has 378 billion fossil energy slaves working for us all the time.

The work value of a barrel of oil is approximately $337,000 using the 2022 U.S. median income of $75,000. That explains the high levels of productivity that have improved global living standards over the last century. Half of all historical oil consumption has been since 2000. No other energy source can remotely compete. It is delusional to imagine that humans will voluntarily trade fossil fuel prosperity for a much poorer renewable energy world.

Figure 5. 4.5 years of work per barrel of oil = 378 billion fossil slaves.
Source: Institute for Energy & Our Future & Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.
Figure 5. 4.5 years of work per barrel of oil = 378 billion fossil slaves.
Source: Institute for Energy & Our Future & Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.

The current world strategy to reduce carbon emissions is to substitute renewable for fossil fuel sources of energy. That approach is not having much effect in terms of absolute volumes of energy supplied or consumed.

Figure 6 shows that there has been average annual addition of 11 billion worker equivalents of energy consumption since 2020. This is included in a total level of that has increased from 163 billion worker equivalents in 1975 to 363 billion worker equivalents in 2023.

I am describing reality. I am not suggesting that using fossil fuels is good nor do I minimize the risks of climate change and global heating.

Figure 6. Annual addition of 11 billion worker equivalents of energy consumption since 2020.
Level has increased from 163 billion worker equivalents in 1975 to 378 billion in 2023.
Source: Our World in Data & Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.
Figure 6. Annual addition of 11 billion worker equivalents of energy consumption since 2020.
Level has increased from 163 billion worker equivalents in 1975 to 378 billion in 2023.
Source: Our World in Data & Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.

As long as energy use continues to increase, efforts to limit carbon emissions will be negligible, and temperature will rise.

Figure 7 shows that global mean temperatures are at the highest level in 24,000 years. Global heating is real. It is a problem. It is because of growth. Carbon emissions are a consequence—not the cause—of temperature increase. Ending fossil fuel use is simply not a practical idea in the medium term. Growth—not fossil fuels—is the root cause that must be understood.

Figure 7. Global heating is real. It is a problem. And it is because of growth. Source Osman et al (2021) and Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.
Figure 7. Global heating is real. It is a problem. And it is because of growth. Source Osman et al (2021) and Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.

Growth is also the root cause of the ongoing crisis of the natural world. Populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish have declined by an average of 69% since 1970 (Figure 8). Expansion of the human enterprise through deforestation, urbanization, and pollution have led to the destruction and fragmentation of natural habitats, making it difficult for species to survive and thrive.

Figure 8. The average abundance of wild animal species has decreased -69% since 1970.
The shaded area represents the statistical uncertainty.
Source: Our World in Data, World Wildlife Federation & Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.
Figure 8. The average abundance of wild animal species has decreased -69% since 1970.
The shaded area represents the statistical uncertainty.
Source: Our World in Data, World Wildlife Federation & Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.

In the first part of this century, geopolitical conflicts centered mainly around terrorism and Middle Eastern conflicts. Since 2020, tensions have been broader and have more directly involved major powers. Strengthening of alliances between Russia, China, Iran, and the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) have been particularly significant.

A fragmentation of the old world order is occurring. The United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union challenged the unity of the EU and led to renewed discussions on sovereignty and regionalism within Europe​. The COVID-19 Pandemic exposed and exacerbated existing geopolitical tensions. Nations turned inward, prioritizing national interests over global cooperation. 

Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine marked a significant shift in European security dynamics. This conflict has led to a reassertion of NATO’s relevance, increased defense spending in Europe, and a push for energy independence from Russia. It has also deepened the divide between Western nations and Russia, and renewed alliances between Russia, China and Iran.

The strategic competition between the US and China has intensified, affecting global trade, technology, and military affairs. The US has taken measures to limit China’s access to advanced technology, while China has expanded its influence through initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative. The conflicts over Taiwan and the South China Sea continue to be flashpoints. Both countries have been engaged in a trade tariff war since 2018.

Populist and nationalist movements have gained traction in many countries, challenging traditional political establishments and international institutions. This trend has been evident in countries like the US, Brazil, India, and parts of Europe, where leaders have prioritized national sovereignty over multilateral cooperation​.

The US and NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan after two decades marked the end of a significant chapter in international military intervention. The rapid takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban has led to questions about the efficacy and future of international nation-building efforts and military interventions​.

The Abraham Accords, which normalized relations between Israel and several Arab states, might have potentially reshaped Middle Eastern alliances. The recent Hamas attacks on Israel were likely aimed at undermining those new alliances. Meanwhile, ongoing conflicts in Syria and Yemen, along with the enduring tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia, continue to destabilize the region.

Drone and missile attacks by Yemen’s Houthi militants on cargo ships in the Red Sea and the Bab el-Mandeb—the vital link between Europe and Asia through which 9% of world shipping passes daily—are causing chaos (Figure 9). Most ships now detour around South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, driving up shipping costs. This surge complicates efforts by European and US central banks to control inflation. Fitch Ratings predicted in February that these Red Sea disruptions could boost prices of US imports by 3.5% by the end of 2024.

Ocean freight rates from the Far East to the U.S. are up 36%-41% month over month, while air freight has risen 9% this year. DHL reports that high ocean freight rates might persist until early 2025, potentially hitting $20,000-$30,000. Longer Red Sea transits, container shortages, and canceled Asian sailings are driving up spot rates. Notably, demand isn’t the sole factor; ocean freight orders are down 48% month over month.

About 20 million barrels oil pass through the Strait of Hormuz daily and more than 6 million barrels per day move through the Bab el-Mandeb.

Figure 9. Red Sea attacks increase shipping times and freight rates.
Source: EIA, Bloomberg and Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.
Figure 9. Red Sea attacks increase shipping times and freight rates.
Source: EIA, Bloomberg and Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.

The push for renewable energy and the transition away from fossil fuels is creating new geopolitical tensions. Countries rich in renewable resources or critical minerals for technology (e.g., lithium, cobalt) are gaining strategic importance, while traditional oil and gas exporters face new challenges​.

The global financial system is increasingly fragile, primarily stemming from massive debt levels, geopolitical risks, increasing interconnectedness, and market volatility. High levels of public and private debt in many countries pose a risk to financial stability. Global debt averaged 220 percent of GDP in 2022 (Figure 10).

Figure 10. Global debt averaged 220 percent of GDP in 2022. Source: IMF and Labyrinth Consulting Services.
Figure 10. Global debt averaged 220 percent of GDP in 2022. Source: IMF and Labyrinth Consulting Services.

The global financial system is highly interconnected, meaning a crisis in one region can quickly spread to others. Financial institutions and markets are increasingly reliant on digital infrastructure, making them vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Markets are increasingly driven by high-frequency trading and algorithmic trading, which can exacerbate market volatility. Flash crashes and significant market swings can occur with little warning, as seen in events like the 2010 Flash Crash and the 2020 market turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic​

Geopolitical tensions and trade wars, like those between the US and China, create uncertainty in global markets. Sanctions, political instability, and conflicts can disrupt financial markets and trade flows, affecting global economic stability. US tariffs on China are likely to increase inflation and consumer costs, aggravate supply chain issues, and further push the Global South further into China’s orbit.

The Russia-Ukraine conflict and subsequent sanctions on Russia have affected global energy prices and financial markets​. Higher energy and commodity prices put strain on an already fragile European economic recovery from Covid economic closures. Europe’s energy prices are moderating as alternate sources of natural gas and oil were hastily substituted but the true cost of this transition is considerable.

The metacrisis has inevitably affected the global economy. Since 2020, the global economy is arguably weaker primarily because of higher energy costs, geopolitical conflicts, inflation, and the costs associated with the energy transition and climate change. Higher energy costs have raised operational expenses for industries worldwide, affecting everything from manufacturing to transportation. This has contributed to increased costs for goods and services, slowing economic growth​.

Real world oil prices averaged only $42 per barrel from 1986 to 2003 but have averaged more than twice that for the last 20 years. Lower oil prices because of shale plays were an anomaly that ended after 2020 (Figure 11). A secular period of relative oil scarcity is underway, and is likely to get progressively more acute in coming decades unless the global economy weakens substantially affecting demand.

Figure 11. Real world oil prices averaged only $42 per barrel from 1986 to 2003
but have averaged more than twice that for the last 20 years.
Lower oil prices because of shale plays were an anomaly that ended after 2020.
Source: EIA, U.S. Dept. of Labor Statistics & Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.
Figure 11. Real world oil prices averaged only $42 per barrel from 1986 to 2003
but have averaged more than twice that for the last 20 years.
Lower oil prices because of shale plays were an anomaly that ended after 2020.
Source: EIA, U.S. Dept. of Labor Statistics & Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.

Inflation rates have surged globally due to supply chain disruptions, increased demand post-COVID-19, and rising energy costs. Many economists ignore or dismiss effect of oil prices on inflation rates but the correlation is undeniable (Figure 12).

Figure 12. U.S. inflation and oil price fell in 2023 but federal funds rate increased. Inflation was lower in Q1 2024, oil price rose and federal funds rate was marginally higher.
Source: St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank, EIA & Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.
Figure 12. U.S. inflation and oil price fell in 2023 but federal funds rate increased. Inflation was lower in Q1 2024, oil price rose and federal funds rate was marginally higher.
Source: St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank, EIA & Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.

Central banks have had to hike interest rates to combat inflation, which in turn slows down economic growth and increases borrowing costs​. Higher inflation erodes purchasing power, leading to reduced consumer spending, which is a key driver of economic growth​.

The shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources involves substantial investment in new technologies and infrastructure. These costs can be significant for both governments and businesses, affecting economic stability in the short term​. Increasingly frequent and severe climate-related disasters, such as hurricanes, floods, and wildfires, cause direct economic damage and disrupt global supply chains. The costs of rebuilding and mitigation efforts further strain economic resources​.

Despite clear evidence that the world’s efforts to decarbonize are failing, there is a constant chorus of enthusiastic pronouncements about the superiority of renewables over fossil fuels. These offer only false hope and trivialize the serious, complex challenge of genuinely reducing carbon emissions.

Those who believe that a renewable energy transition is possible seem to ignore that carbon emissions, GDP, population and society’s ecological footprint all correlate with energy consumption (Figure 13). That means that there is a cost for lower emissions.

Unless the future is somehow completely different from the past and present, the only solution to climate change and overshooting our planetary boundaries is a radical reduction in energy consumption. Lower economic growth and a lower population will be unavoidable components of a renewable energy future. That’s not part of the transition narrative, and is a non-starter for most people and political leaders.

Figure 13. Carbon emissions, heating, overshoot of planetary boundaries unlikely to decrease 
as long as energy consumption, world GDP and population continue to increase.
Source:  OWID, Global Footprint Network , Global Carbon Atlas, NOAA & Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.
Figure 13. Carbon emissions, heating, overshoot of planetary boundaries unlikely to decrease
as long as energy consumption, world GDP and population continue to increase.
Source: OWID, Global Footprint Network , Global Carbon Atlas, NOAA & Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.

The essence of the metacrisis is that everything is connected. Tinkering with one piece without considering the ripple effects can lead to disaster. Yet, this piecemeal approach is how society tries to solve its problems.

We crave solutions, but do we truly grasp the problems at hand?

War, financial collapse, failing supply chains, and the collapse of governance threaten civilization (Figure 14). Global heating and the destruction of the natural world are more serious planetary threats.

Figure 14. The Four Horsemen of the coming decade are our greatest risks.
Source: @natehagens (2022)
Figure 14. The Four Horsemen of the coming decade are our greatest risks.
Source: @natehagens (2022)

Our focus must first be on the whole, not just the fragments. This means acknowledging the natural world as the foundation of our resources and prosperity. Ignoring how our actions affect nature is a core reason for the metacrisis we’re facing. Climate change is just a piece of a much larger puzzle of environmental and ecological breakdown. Focusing solely on carbon emissions misses the broader context—energy, the economy, society, and human behavior.

We need a holistic approach, one that moves fluidly from the whole to the parts and back again. Otherwise, we’re simply shifting problems around, likely making everything worse in the process.

Art Berman is anything but your run-of-the-mill energy consultant. With a résumé boasting over 40 years as a petroleum geologist, he’s here to annihilate your preconceived notions and rearm you with unfiltered, data-backed takes on energy and its colossal role in the world's economic pulse. Learn more about Art here.

Share this Post:

Posted in

Read More Posts

44 Comments

  1. Loring Nilsson on July 5, 2024 at 3:13 am

    There is only one thing which is better than your speakiing and that is your writing abilities.

    • Art Berman on July 5, 2024 at 9:39 pm

      Thanks for those encouraging comments, Loring.

      All the best,

      Art

  2. John Gentile on June 30, 2024 at 1:24 pm

    Thank you, Art, for a tour de force exposition of the meta-crisis. Merits a number of thoughtful comments, please allow me to share one.

    That is, I tend to agree with others in this thread. Upon that point turns the whole issue in my view. GROWTH* as you reference IS NOT the problem.

    That is tantamount to saying nature is the problem. Deriving work from energy is not in some cosmic connection linked to extinction as we now have in the balance.

    That’s ridiculous, Art. Run away addiction to carbon based growth IS, as you state due to heating, a ‘real’ problem.

    In fact, all of nature outside of the industrial world’s profligate use of climate heating energy sources, grows safely and prodigiously. And adapts, sometimes violently, but never in a way that destroys the basis of continued terrestrial evolution.

    Albert Einstein stated, ‘imagination is everything’. The book you introduced me to, Art, ‘Oracle of Oil’ quotes M. King Hubbard (in the 1970s!) stating we have the tools and the process of avoiding climate destruction need not be onerous, to paraphrase, an opportunity for a renaissance of culture and growth.

    Using either the example of the U.S. response to the Great Depression or preparation to WIN WWII, an all out, prioritized (heavy trucks/transport first!) conversion away from the use of carbon based energy can and would have a dramatic impact. Begin with the next 5 years. It would set the stage for even more dramatic success in the following 5 years.

    Art, thank you always for sharing your hard work, revealing to the rest of us the ‘facts’ of the matter. Imagination is everything, but surely so is starting with a perspective firmly grounded in the best those gifted among us can help us understand of the facts…

    JAG

    Unfortunately, while we have the tools and intelligence, we do not have the nobility, imagination, or leadership. We do not have the necessary strength of character (the real genius of fore fathers rooted in real work, triumph over risk, and life experience). Therefore, perhaps the worst impact of having had & become addicted to an energy dense fuel cheaply available is that as a civilization we grasp for further ease and comfort.

    Your most recent article, LNG ‘blowing it’ underlines the pattern of the mentality. After all these years rather then view the resource as a very valuable ‘part’ within a whole that can transition.

    The heat of ‘23 and now beginning 2024 Spring is the start of the broad based acknowledgment that there is ‘a problem’. Let’s see how long it takes for leadership and imagination to lead to effective action…if it ever does sufficiently to begin to avoid triggering further tipping points.

    (*Global heating is real. It is a problem. It is because of growth. Carbon emissions are a consequence—not the cause—of temperature increase. Ending fossil fuel use is simply not a practical idea in the medium term. Growth—not fossil fuels—is the root cause that must be understood.)

    (** “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand”)

    • Art Berman on June 30, 2024 at 4:42 pm

      John,

      I completely disagree. That’s why I wrote the post and supported it with data. Your opinions are interesting but are not supported with data.

      All the best,

      Art

    • Henri on July 2, 2024 at 7:11 am

      I really don’t see why you would link growth to nature.
      Ecological overshoot is the issue and it manifested with our unsustainable and insane growth in energy and material usage.

      The fact that you think nature is adapting just shows how delusional you are; it’s not, because we’re changing our environnement waaaay too fast for nature to adapt (plenty of examples outside of the data Art gave about loss of wildlife).

      But godspeed to you in any case. Any acceleration towards the collapse (slow or fast) to this ponzi economic system is welcome, regarldess of our loss of comfort.

      We fucked around (20th century) and we’re about to find out (21th century) :]]
      Accelerate :]]

      • Art Berman on July 2, 2024 at 11:59 pm

        I agree with you, Henri. Nature will adapt to human growth by crushing human growth.

        All the best,

        Art

  3. Leon Thurmon on June 26, 2024 at 7:36 pm

    Art, just a single data point of my own experience. A gallon of gas contains 33 Kwh of energy. Usually I fill up my electric car at about the 50 to 60 miles range left and put in around 45 Kwh of electricity that gets me back to a +-300 mile range. The electricity to charge my car comes from a 3.2KW solar array on my roof (I’m currently running about a 500 Kwh surplus on my net meter). Of course my monthly electric bill is zero other than the grid access charge (minimal). I know I’m a drop in the ocean and I know this would not work for everyone…. oh, and by the way my battery pack is LiFe, so minimal (if any) cobalt. So, bottom line I typically use the equivalent of one and a third gallons of gas to go 230 miles week-in and week-out. Just a data point, that’s all.

    • Art Berman on June 30, 2024 at 4:40 pm

      Leon,

      I’m glad that you’re happy with your solar and EV but anecdotal information is not scalable or useful for the nation or the world. Now, let’s talk about how much all of that machinery is actually helping the environment. Feeling good is not the same as making a difference.

      U.S. will need 500,000 EV charging stations by 2030. That means building new generating capacity, 100s of 1000s of miles of new transmission in & major upgrades to local electric utilities.

      Critical large transformers manufactured in Asia w/ a 5-year waiting period.

      Good luck with all of that!

      https://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/4702924-it-just-wont-happen-bidens-ev-mandate-relies-on-pure-infrastructure-fantasy/

      All the best,

      Art

  4. Evan Egenolf on June 26, 2024 at 12:01 pm

    Art,

    I’m a reservoir engineer, and I love your work. My favorite has been your “shale is a retirement party” talk a few years ago. It is truly humbling (mostly terrifying) to quantity the energy slaves we are using yearly to consume.

    Evan

    • Art Berman on June 30, 2024 at 4:38 pm

      Thanks, Evan, for your encouraging comments.

      All the best,

      Art

  5. Mark Sharkey on June 25, 2024 at 4:39 pm

    I can see your point that the World environmental crisis needs tackling as a whole but that is not really possible for any one group and I don’t see as a problem focusing on a part where you may be able to have an effect – as long as all the parts are addressed by other groups. Unfortunately we are likely well past any overall solutions to the problem being possible now.

    I live in the UK and in the upcoming election Starmer, who is likely the next prime minister, is offering growth as his only solution to the countries problems. I’ve tweeted several times that continual growth, on a finite planet is like believing the Earth is flat and you can always go a bit further and get more resources. Not many people believe the earth is flat but a hell of a lot of politicians act like it is.

    • Art Berman on June 25, 2024 at 6:31 pm

      Mark,

      The problem with working on the parts is that they affect other parts in ways that are usually negative. Shoot, ready, aim.

      All the best,

      Art

  6. Dick. Vodra on June 25, 2024 at 2:04 am

    In addition to all you discussed, I was surprised to see no mention of Peak Oil and other resource limits. The can we are trying to kick down the road is likely to be empty.

    When I think of a world without fossil fuels (for whatever reason), I think the material throughput would be at best 1% of what we have now- 10% of the people with 10% of the consumption. No peaceful way to get there.

    I really enjoy your work with your focus on facts.

    • Art Berman on June 25, 2024 at 12:20 pm

      Dick,

      Why is peak oil relevant to the metacrisis except as a science-project theme for old farts like us who were part of it 20 years ago? It’s not irrelevant as a theme for the future but is not a contributing factor to the metacrisis today since oil production continues to increase.

      All the best,

      Art

  7. steve on June 24, 2024 at 10:36 pm

    Nuclear weapons provide Russia immunity from a stronger confrontation by NATO forces. Iran, upon crossing the nuclear threshold would also gain some degree of immunity, likely not as great as Russia. Consider were a nuclear armed Iran to slip across the Gulf and takeover the Saudi fields, they, with the assistance of their allies control sufficient oil production to bring the West to its knees. Far fetched?

    • Art Berman on June 24, 2024 at 10:51 pm

      Steve,

      I have no idea how things might proceed geopolitically but nuclear exchange is more likely today than at any time in the last 70 years. That is the greatest single risk we face.

      All the best,

      Art

  8. Mike A Legge on June 24, 2024 at 8:36 pm

    Mike Legge:- Art, a fabulous assessment. Thank you!
    It seems to me that the fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse (Social Contract) is the stumbling block to actually altering our ways. We basically only value the near future due to genetic response to our past. Whilst, your overview is readily understood, we are incapable of action. We have tunnel vision on carbon, as it eases our need to take other long term solutions and to prevent going insane by fantasizing about “renewables”. I am fearful of talking about the future with my grandchildren incase they suffer which I know will happen. I know that I’m a fake most of the time. How do we collectively get understanding?

    • Art Berman on June 24, 2024 at 10:49 pm

      Mike,

      I believe that the most fundamental problem is psychological. That is expressed in all the other horsemen.

      I recommend reading Iain McGilchrist’s The Matter With Things. He says that the population is increasingly schizotypal—-attention deficit, inability to read others, lack of empathy—-because of right hemisphere deficit.

      They experience a very alarming world. Their experience is more authentic & compelling than any argument based on data or logic.

      There is, therefore, no point in having discussions based on information and logic.

      All the best,

      Art

  9. Shane Quimby on June 24, 2024 at 5:12 pm

    Great piece, Art. Not what most people want to hear, but that’s not your job…

    • Art Berman on June 24, 2024 at 5:59 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Shane.

      All the best,

      Art

  10. Paul P. on June 24, 2024 at 4:28 pm

    A needed dose of hard reality. Non-climate issues are not being completely ignored. The UN is a weak organization but their “17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030” address broad environmental and societal issues going well beyond climate change. The EU is taking them seriously and has incorporated many of the goals into its new CSRD/ESRS reporting standards. The goals are also often referenced in U.S. public-company sustainability reports. The goals align with your comments that we live in a complicated and interconnected world and the UN acknowledges that some of them have contradictory elements, such as increasing energy supply to underdeveloped populations while reducing global emissions overall. I would argue that some of the most-socialist goals are counterproductive (such as being welcoming to labor unions).

    Climate change takes the lead because the problem is seen as critical, global, and urgent because we are making the problem irreversibly worse with each passing day because of the 100+ year life of CO2. There seems to be no substantive solution, but there are some reasonable mitigating actions that could be taken. We are not doing much in the U.S. in part because it seems that the majority of our population is not even convinced that a problem exists — and many consider it their duty to hold that position.

    It could be argued that the climate change discussion is elevating the profile of other sustainability issues more than overshadowing them. For example, corporate sustainability reports address a broad range of issues and I’m not so sure those reports and reporting frameworks/standards would exist at all if not for the strong call for emissions reporting.

    • Art Berman on June 24, 2024 at 5:18 pm

      Paul,

      Thanks for your thoughts. I agree that there are many voices calling attention to different parts of our predicament than climate change. The problem is that looking at more parts doesn’t accomplish anything except distract from the whole.

      All the best,

      Art

  11. Ed Lindgren on June 24, 2024 at 2:48 pm

    Art –

    The sorry fact is that those who rule us would rather invest our sweat and treasure in conflict and war. Our global adversaries feel the same urge.

    You are right; only a radical restructuring of our whole way of life is going to avoid a wholesale collapse of the biosphere, which sustains humans as well as all the other creatures on this planet. At the very least, the transition to a steady-state economic system is necessary, probably with a healthy dose of degrowth. Somehow the needs of the global South will also have to be taken care of.

    For those of us used to gorging on the hydrocarbon hog, it will not be a pleasant experience, but the Julian Simon Cornucopian outlook has gotten us into this mess and the sooner we leave that mindset behind, the better.

    Looks like a pretty tall order from where I sit.

    Regards

    Ed Lindgren
    Overland Park KS

    • Art Berman on June 24, 2024 at 5:15 pm

      Ed,

      Thanks for those observations. I don’t think that our leaders are intentionally trying to make things worse—they’re just focused on the narrow view of what will get them returned to power. That has been the way of things for at least 5000 years.

      The order is too tall IMO.

      All the best,

      Art

  12. Phil Martin on June 24, 2024 at 2:39 pm

    Thanks Art. You gave a clear, big picture analysis of what many of us have been intuitively concerned about for years.

    • Art Berman on June 24, 2024 at 5:12 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Phil.

      All the best,

      Art

  13. Pierre-Paul Turgeon on June 24, 2024 at 1:49 pm

    Hi Art. My name is Pierre-Paul Turgeon from Alberta Canada and I’m a real estate investor. A few years ago, I was of two people in your webinar. Once again, I wanted to express my gratitude for the work you do and the posts you put out which are thought-provoking and cut through the b.s. we’re subjected to at so many levels. Our world needs more people like you to gain more clarity. Thank you.

    • Art Berman on June 24, 2024 at 5:12 pm

      Pierre-Paul,

      I remember your name! Thanks for your encouraging comments.

      All the best,

      Art

  14. George Hart on June 24, 2024 at 1:09 pm

    Your post came over the transom alongside this one: https://thehonestsorcerer.medium.com/could-we-go-back-to-the-1950s-please-8287b242aed1

    There is quite a bit of overlap, with the call to see things clearly.

    • Art Berman on June 24, 2024 at 5:11 pm

      George,

      I know the honest sorcerer. We didn’t collaborate on our posts but he knows renewable energy as well as anyone.

      All the best,

      Art

  15. George Hart on June 24, 2024 at 12:55 pm

    Terrific summation. If I am not mistaken you are saying that growth is the root cause. Growth is the problem/predicament we need to unpack and address. And in that case, Dana Meadows’ #1 place to intervene in a system, “the mindset or paradigm out of which the system — its goals, power structure, rules, its culture — arises” is the root cause; e.g, growth as we currently pursue it. And the so-called energy transition is not grounded on this understanding.

    Thank you as always for you rigor and willingness to challenge our all-too-prevalent obfuscations.

    • Art Berman on June 24, 2024 at 5:10 pm

      Thanks for your comments, George.

      You have understood me correctly–growth is at the core of the metacrisis. I am not an advocate for policies or proposals because humans will not agree quickly enough to make a difference—idealistically assuming that they will agree at all.

      All the best,

      Art

  16. SCOTT ROBERT RELIEN on June 24, 2024 at 12:55 pm

    ‘Climate Gate’ demonstrated that the temperature data is corrupt & intentionally manipulated. Thus, any conclusions drawn on corrupt data are themselves necessarily corrupt.

    My career revolved around study design & data analysis. Climate Gate, look it up, demonstrated that temperature data (thermometers) were intentionally placed in heat dumps i.e. inner city black-top parking lots & airport runways exposed to jet engine acceleration heat etc. Thus, any conclusions based on the aforementioned “temperature data” is inaccurate.

    Mr. Berman should know better.

    • Art Berman on June 24, 2024 at 5:07 pm

      Scott,

      You prefer the exception to the rule, and reject common sense. Remember the analogy of the duck–if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, etc.

      If temperature is higher, and human activities are producing more pollution including combustion gases, it’s a climate change duck. Try taking a break from finding reasons why a duck isn’t a duck. It’s a duck.

      You have been played by Climate Gate. You’re probably a smart guy with no experience in earth science. Trust a guy who has that experience when I say, you are wrong. Would you offer advice about procedures to your surgeon because you read something about Medical Gate that happened 15 years ago? I doubt it.

      https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/debunking-misinformation-about-stolen-climate-emails

      https://www.cato.org/commentary/climategate-whitewash-continues

      All the best,

      Art

      All the best,

      Art

  17. John Bruch on June 24, 2024 at 12:48 pm

    Thank you, again, Art, for helping me understand.

    Do you have a view as to whether we have the ability to understand the problem we are trying to solve? Are the implications of understanding the problem too much for us to bear? (It is utterly astounding to me that, more than 60 years after very serious alarm bells sounded about the systemic nature of our issues, more scientists (and even engineers) have not simply said: “We have to do less (use less energy).”)

    *Why* haven’t we properly identified the problem?

    • Art Berman on June 24, 2024 at 4:59 pm

      John,

      Many people are incapable of seeing the problem because their attention is focused on parts instead of the whole. If they can find an exception to a common sense conclusion about an individual part–the correlation of CO2 emissions to temperature increase, for example–they conclude that that part is not a problem.

      All the best,

      Art

  18. bFreedman on June 24, 2024 at 10:55 am

    Great article

    • Art Berman on June 24, 2024 at 4:55 pm

      Thanks, bFreedman.

      All the best,

      Art

  19. Mike Roberts on June 24, 2024 at 1:17 am

    Indeed, we need to look at the whole of the polycrisis, though I would tend to emphasise the environmental issues, since modernity (including geopolitical and trade issues) is unsustainable anyway, so must end. See Tom Murphy’s post for why modernity must end: https://dothemath.ucsd.edu/2023/09/can-modernity-last/

    However, I was curious about this sentence: “Carbon emissions are a consequence—not the cause—of temperature increase.” I wondered if it was a typo, since the science shows that heat trapping greenhouse gases (GHGs) are the cause of warming and the rise of those gases in the atmosphere is due to carbon emissions (and other GHGs). Of course, there are positive feedbacks which can enhance natural emissions, but the sentence seemed to go against the science. Is it really what you meant?

    • Art Berman on June 24, 2024 at 4:54 pm

      Mike,

      Emissions of all varieties are the unavoidable consequence of converting energy into work. The more people there are, the more work is done, and the more emissions are produced.

      Temperature increase is, therefore, linked to growth. Carbon emissions are a consequence of growth.

      All the best,

      Art

      • Mike Roberts on June 25, 2024 at 2:41 am

        I understand that but presume you mean carbon emissions are the proximate cause, not the underlying cause, of temperature increase? However, although growth exacerbates all problems, we’d still have carbon emissions if all economic growth stopped. And that would continue to warm the planet.

        • Art Berman on June 25, 2024 at 12:17 pm

          Mike,

          As long as energy is converted into work–including for the most basic pre-industrial agricultural activity–there will and always have been emissions.

          My point is to consider the entire process and not get stuck on the parts.

          All the best,

          Art

  20. PCL Emberton on June 23, 2024 at 11:20 pm

    Art Berman, Carey King and NJ Hagens – a triplet of outstanding commentators on energy related matters

    • Art Berman on June 24, 2024 at 4:52 pm

      Paul,

      Thanks for your comment. Nate and Carey are friends as well as colleagues.

      All the best,

      Art

Leave a Comment