Friday, September 13, 2019

Oath-breaking and an amazing line from the Declaration of Independence

== An amazing item in the Declaration of Independence ==

We keep hearing whines from neo-confederates that it was oppression to keep the Union together by force and that secession was about states' rightsI demolish the latter point devastatingly here. (Bands of irregular Southern cavalry went on merciless, unprovoked raids, shredding northern states from 1852-1860, radicalizing them -- much as the treason spread by Fox News is radicalizing us in the saner majority, today.)  

But let's focus on that oppression part. The Jefferson-authored U.S. Declaration of Independence (USDI ) makes clear that states and people can ethically separate themselves from a no-longer tolerable union with more-dominant others, even if that means breaking solemn oaths. But the Declaration also emphatically demands that such oath-breaking bear a steep burden of justification, by strong grievances and repeated, blanket refusal by the dominators to discuss redress. 

You don't break solemn oaths unless the entity you swore loyalty to refuses to negotiate in good faith. Or no honorable person does.

I recently examined a 1778 copy of the USDI on the wall of my kind bibliophile hosts in DC, the Adamses. There I discovered something interesting, which I'll relate below. But the essential lesson is that the Confederate secessionists of 1860-61 styled their declarations as following Jefferson's mold, when they were diametrically opposite! 

Actually read the secession documents of South Carolina etc., filled with whines and yowls about how northern states refused to crush free speech or suppress abolitionist newspapers and were conspiring to limit the spread of sacred slavery across the Americas. And yes, "slavery" is touted glowingly and explicitly 37 times in the SC document. So yes, it was all about slavery.

But key is this: Jefferson's document describes relentless efforts by British Americans, sending delegations to negotiate with King and Parliament. Ben Franklin tried for close to a decade, to no avail. 

In contrast, the 1860s secessionists broke their solemn oaths (and yes, they had sworn loyalty to 'The United States' vastly more often, across previous years, than ever to their home states) without sending a single delegation to talk to the incoming President-elect Abraham Lincoln. 

Not a single delegation. Not one.

In other words, there is no evasion of the pure fact that their grievances were either imaginary or downright evil... and they broke their solemn oaths without a scintilla of honorable intent or behavior. 

That makes them traitors, pure and simple. And what their heirs are achieving now, with treasonous betrayal of the U.S. to foreign despots, gambling moguls, petro-sheiks and mafiosi, is something a long time coming.  21st Century Americans need to remember this fact.

== An amazing snippet in the Declaration of Independence ==

Now for that amazing thing I saw, among the listed indictments against King and Parliament, in the USDI. Take a look at this:

"He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.'

Yipe! Read that again!

Yes, there are also clauses that indigenous peoples might object to. I've spoken elsewhere about how our hard and painful journey - expanding horizons of inclusion - was only just beginning, back then. Nevertheless, this one above is rich in irony, and I wonder if anyone has mentioned it.

As for states' rights... what malarkey! The South owned and operated the federal government from 1830-1860 and used it as a bludgeon against northern peoples, radicalizing them till they voted for Lincoln, something that would have been impossible just a few years earlier. And it led to the hottest (so far) phase of our ongoing, 250 year Civil War.

== A Big-Bold Book of Best-of-Brin Blogs? ==

By popular demand, I am creating a quick e-book that merges together many of my political postings under the following title:

By David Brin 

An Impudent Guide for Sane Americans to Charge Past
 Trench Warfare in Our Life or Death Struggle for Civilization

Next time, I may post the table of contents. Avidly vigorous pre-readers are already at work.

== And finally... ==

Draw your own conclusions about what this map tells us about regional capabilities at self-control. Then try looking up state by state comparisons of teen sex rates, teen births, abortions, STDs, divorce*, gambling, drug addiction, domestic violence and every other solid metric of the "morality" that Red America has screamed they have so much more of, for my entire lifetime. Oh and over-reliance on federal assistance and largesse from the blue states they so ungratefully despise.

It would be SO wrong of me to even raise any of that... if we had not already been warred upon endlessly and with increasing venom, including volcanic rage against every fact-centered profession... including scientists, journalists, teachers, doctors, law professionals, professors... and above all the civil servants and Intel/FBI/military officers in the so-called "deep state," who have striven mightily to limit the damage, ever since Vladimir Putin and his assets took Washington D.C.


* The divorce rate among GOP politicians is easily twice that of democrats. (Bets?) At the top, the ratio is infinite. Twelve marriages among just Reagan, Hastert, Gingrich, McConnell, Trump, all of them topmost leaders of the GOP…
And now? Rudy Guiliani's estranged wife must have been the last to figure this out:“I feel betrayed by a man that I supported in every way for more than 20 years,” Mrs. Giuliani said in an interview. “I’m sad to know that the hero of 9/11 has become a liar.”


Zepp Jamieson said...

Interesting. Jefferson et al were annoyed because the Crown would not implement the Plantation Act, which provided full rights of citizenship to any Protestant who lived in the colonies for seven years. Probably shouldn't be surprised, since the colonies only averaged 2 persons per square mile if you include the crown colonies that elected not to rebel.
Part of the need for more immigrants stemmed from the desire to expand westward, and the crown was discouraging that, mostly because the further inland, the less control the crown would have.

David Brin said...

It'd be great if someone helped me update the charts at

Zen Cosmos said...

Single greatest problem this blog highlights is that for a generation or 2 or 3, US History and civics classes in elementary, middle, high school and and college do NOT simply recite either the Declaration or the Constitution. Each idea in both should receive several hours and weeks of emphasis. especially via Socratic stand and deliver method to ensure future voting citizens truly understand the basis for their country. Hypocritically the South had literacy tests that actually played at this understanding but failed by its uneven use against blacks. THAT re-emphasis should return as a given part of any curriculum...-Zen Cosmos aka David Dorais.

Tim Wolter said...

Zen Cosmos;

Although I am no longer comfortable posting political stuff at CB I do have to say that your comment is the most profound one I've seen here in months. And that's an apolitical statement btw. If we teach young and perhaps less young people how to better consider the issues of the day we can't predict what conclusions they would draw. Only that they would be better considered and more reflective of what the citizenry actually wants.

Here's to hopin'


scidata said...

Someone once said that the strongest bulwark against tyranny is an educated and engaged citizenry, or words to that effect. I'll have to look into this sometime.

TCB said...

Not sure I have the chops to help THAT much with the charts, but here's what I find so far:

The linked blog post is from June 2014. Here's some more current data: United States Gross Federal Debt to GDP

By year, this chart shows:

2009 debt equaled 82.3% of the GDP.
2010, 91.2%
2011, 95.8%
2012, 100%
2013, 100.7%
2014, 102.7% And that's as far as the Brin charts go. Since then:
2015, 100.2%
2016, 105.3%
2017, 104.8%
2018, 106.1%

That website, on the longest available timeline, starts at about 1940 and, as expected, the debt-to-GDP ratio skyrockets through the WW2 era, from about 50% all the way to 120%; then, high marginal tax rates bring it down, down, down through the 1950's until, by about 1969, it's under 40% and still dropping until Reagan comes along with his tax voodoo. Trump tax cuts really only appear in the last year of the chart, but even so, we're back up to where we were when we were paying off the Second World War.

TCB said...

P.S. The same website is forecasting 110% in 2020.

TCB said...

This website has a nice correlation between the debt/GDP ratio and historical events, from 1929 to present day.

TCB said...

That last link is part of a series, and it looks juicy.

Alfred Differ said...

For folks who hyperventilate with excitement when facing large statistical tables, it's hard to go wrong with BEA ( and BLS ( You can get the data directly and play with it on spreadsheets or you can mess with their data/charting tools.

Many of our federal agencies have data available like this. No doubt many State agencies do too if your state has a decent budget for this.

Sources like these are ones I prefer to use in debates/wagers. For example, did the public dept/GDP ratio begin to improve before Poppa Bush left office... or after Clinton's inauguration? What if you examine the components of public debt... do they tell the same story?

These stories are what spreadsheets were built for in the first place. What if's. Correlation hunting. Inflection detection. Enjoy. 8)

duncan cairncross said...

Dr Brin
I have just used your "ownership" meme in an answer on Quora

Thinking about it you should include it in your Ju-Jitsu book

I apologise if you already have but I don't remember noticing it when I read your draft

David Brin said...

Duncan TCB & Alfred, thanks. I've thoroughly edited chs 1-12.

Tim and Zen I am fine with that. But you are basically describing empowerment of a calmly knowing and sagacious citizenry, armed with knowledge, access to expertise and skills at positive sum negotiation.

What you omit is that everything I describe above has been deliberately and relentlessly targeted for destruction by malevolent forces who propagandize against every single word, above. We're talking about meme campaigns against education itself and especially knowledge professions.

This is not grampas' "left versus right."

TCB said...

Incidentally, the debt-to-GDP jumped MASSIVELY in Obama's early years thanks largely to the bank bailouts and other Great Recession related revenue losses, etc. It went from 62% in 2007 to 83% in 2009 and 99% by 2012.

jim said...

Piketty has done some interesting political science on the increasing inequality in industrial society.

There developed a working relationship between the brahmin left and the merchant right in the 1980’s that grew stronger and resulted in the “Washington Consensus” in the 1990’s. The elites on the Brahmin left and Merchant right agreed on the path to globalization. This was done to increase the wealth and power of oligarchs, multinational corporations and the well educated at the expense of the working classes in first world nations, the sovereignty of nations and the global environment. The main tools were tax, wage and regulatory arbitrage. (computer networks and container shipping were also critical.)

After decades of pressure build up, the Washington consensus survived an attempt to get change from the democrats so the people went in the other direction and chose Trump. Trump has delivered a powerful blow against the Washington Consensus. And now there is an actual emphasis by both parties on treating the American working class better.

I think one of the parties will end up being a party of the working class and the other will be the party of the status quo. I an not sure witch one the democrats will be.

Larry Hart said...


I think one of the parties will end up being a party of the working class and the other will be the party of the status quo. I an not sure witch one the democrats will be.

Well, I can tell you which one the Republicans won't be.

Alfred Differ said...

This was done to

An unsupported assertion.

The rest of Jim’s comment sounds like a Marxist’s wet dream. 👌

jim said...

Larry If Trump was a normal republican I would completely agree with you.

But Trump is not guided by ideology, he is guided by a will to power and personal corruption.
His foreign policy is very different than a “normal” republican or democrat.

It is not unthinkable that if Trump is up against Biden in the election, Trump could go at Biden from the left with a Medicare for All proposal. How many heads would explode??

jim said...

I find it funny that you think that that the oligarchs, multinational corporations, and the well-educated were not acting in their own interests as they pushed globalization. I guess it is just a coincidence that working class in the US, national sovereignty and the global environment were the losers from this policy?

David Smelser said...


Are you willing to wager on the prediction that Trump will advocate for medicare for all prior to the 2020 election? I'm willing to take the other side of that bet.

Can we work on an discussion on what constitutes a real proposal for medicare for all from Trump? I'm not willing to accept a tweet or a sentence or two at a stump speech. What do you propose?

jim said...

I think Trump proposing Medicare For All is unlikely, but I also thought that Trump waging a real Trade War with China was very unlikely. He is really a loose cannon without strong ideological preferences. I think he would only steal a popular democratic health care idea if the Democrat running for president rejects it.

scidata said...

Dr. Brin: malevolent forces

Of course that's very true. But perhaps there's room for both judo combat and what Sagan called the "hunger" for science in the general citizenry. I am greatly inspired by the generosity and optimism shown by you and some other scientists I talk to.

Citizen science may offer an adjunctive, less formal, less threatening approach in disputes such as the TMT in HI. It seems to enjoy goodwill from schools, laymen, politicians, trades, and academia. I'd estimate my own experiences at 100:1 encouragement:hostility. Let's hope that continues and grows.

Alfred Differ said...


You said there was a working relationship between the sides and implied shared goals. In doing that I noted that you missed the biggest of the separate but aligned goals to feed your confirmation bias... again.

I am a member of the educated left and merchant right. I have at least anecdotal insight that suggests you are mistaken.

Larry Hart said...


But Trump is not guided by ideology, he is guided by a will to power and personal corruption.
His foreign policy is very different than a “normal” republican or democrat.

And he talks a good game about being for the little guy and the working class, but when the rubber hits the road, he won't buck the NRA, and his tax breaks favor the wealthy, no matter who he says they're supposed to favor. He'll say his rich friends hate his policy, but they don't, unless by the trivial observation that Trump has no friends, so all 0 of them may well hate his policies.

I can imagine him campaigning as a champion of the downtrodden, but he's not going to actually do anything like that. And if he tried, the Republican Party wouldn't go along.

It is not unthinkable that if Trump is up against Biden in the election, Trump could go at Biden from the left with a Medicare for All proposal. How many heads would explode??

Only if his base is willing to go full on "We've always been at war with Eastasia" and decide that they always were for a liberal policy. If the base isn't with him, he's not going there.

Again, he might toss such ideas out there the way he once tossed out his friendly relationship with "Chuck and Nancy". That lasted about five minutes. Any liberal campaigning by Trump would likely last about as long.

A.F. Rey said...

The problem with Trump is that he's like a 10-year-old put in the driver's seat of a Mack truck. So you never can predict what he'll do. You just know that sooner or later he's going to plow that rig into a tree. :(

And, unfortunately, we are all his cargo...

Alfred Differ said...


I’m back at my keyboard (instead of my phone), so I can offer a better answer.

not acting in their own interests as they pushed globalization

Of course we are, but you make that sound like a bad thing. That’s the Marxist within you that fails to recognize that ‘self interests’ does not imply Ebenezer Scrooge style prudence maximization. Many on the so-called left wanted globalization because they had an eye on global poverty and health outcomes. Our export sector is actually a small slice of the US economy, but many of them wanted to grow their businesses and that implied local jobs… just not the ones that used to be here.

You appear hung up on the left/right axis thing. Let it go and the world might make a bit more sense. It is more accurate to recognize the great middle slice of social strata as members of the Bourgeoisie. At one end are the ‘petite bourgeois’ members of the working class. At the other end are the haute bourgeois members who own a lot of stuff and likely built their fortunes employing others… maybe getting a leg up by inheriting a stash from their parents. The educated folks (intelligentsia?) can be found all through the clade, but tend to cluster a little higher among the strata because education is one of the forms of human capital that might not exist for first generation immigrants.

The collusion you describe is actually among the bourgeoisie, but not because there are shared goals or communicated conspiracy plans. MOST Americans are bourgeoisie, so of course the appearance of coordination is among us. So are most of the fights too.

Yes. The West’s bourgeois clade HAS taken action that has come at the expense of national sovereignty. Climate too. Along the way, though, they damn near ended extreme global poverty and many of the follow-on effects like famine and epidemics.

If I were to describe it allegorically, we’ve unseated two of the four horsemen of the apocalypse forcing the enemy to call in cavalry reserves. Not bad for a bunch of hairless apes. Next!

Larry Hart said...

A.F. Rey:

The problem with Trump is that he's like a 10-year-old put in the driver's seat of a Mack truck. So you never can predict what he'll do. You just know that sooner or later he's going to plow that rig into a tree. :(

Way back before we had a kid, my wife and I were walking in the neighborhood, when out from around a corner came one of those motor powered cars that kids can drive. Only the kid in this one couldn't have been more than 18 months old, if that. A woman old enough to probably be his grandmother came tearing after him. Talk about a recipe for disaster. And a good metaphor for Trump running a country.

And, unfortunately, we are all his cargo...

Yeah, if he was just harming himself, it would be funnier.

duncan cairncross said...

"they damn near ended extreme global poverty and many of the follow-on effects like famine and epidemics"

I hear this as one of the great things that "the capitalist system" or your clade of rentiers has done

But IMHO they are merely claiming the credit

It was advances in our ability to do things in the physical world that made the difference

It is possible that the "capitalist system" was also a necessary part of that
But it is also possible that it wasn't

What is CERTAIN is that the "capitalist system" was NOT necessary and sufficient

David Brin said...

“I find it funny that you think that that the oligarchs, multinational corporations, and the well-educated were not acting in their own interests as they pushed globalization.”

jim, blah, blah. Try refuting the pure fact that 90% of the world’s population has never witnessed war, first hand. Or that 90% of children today bring schoolbooks to homes (some we’d call hovels) with a fridge and light to study by an enough food.

There is SO much still to do, especially delivering a comfortable decent life at far, far greater efficiencies. But your refusal to see what’s been accomplished is simply credibility destroying. It leaves you with zero cred to criticize. It’s all just incantations. Brahmin left. Huh!

Underlying it all? “I (jim) an smarter than everybody! All those globalists only sought their own near term self-interest, while I can see ahead and strive for the better world in which the poor might thrive! I am the genius‼!”

Larry Hart said...

Paul Krugman gets it (emphasis mine) :


What can Democrats do about this situation? They need to win elections, but all too often that won’t be sufficient, because they confront a Republican Party that at a basic level doesn’t accept their right to govern, never mind what the voters say. So winning isn’t enough; they also have to be prepared for that confrontation.


Darrell E said...

jim said:

"After decades of pressure build up, the Washington consensus survived an attempt to get change from the democrats so the people went in the other direction and chose Trump. Trump has delivered a powerful blow against the Washington Consensus. And now there is an actual emphasis by both parties on treating the American working class better."(my emphasis)

None of this is accurate. The two major parties are not equivalent in any meaningful way. Degrees really do matter. Trump has done little that the Republican Party hasn't enabled him to do when they could, by simply deciding to do so, have significantly restrained his actions. They had / have the power and they've decided to let Trump run free.

And that last? I'll just leave it at WTF?

jim said...

Confirmation basis is very strong in those steeped in todays Hubris, so strong that they have difficulty recognizing the Nemesis that our Hubris has called forth.

What I recognize and understand that many of you seem to miss is that we are deep into ecological overshoot, with at least six billion people whose lives depend on the continued use of fossil fuels. You know fossil fuels that limited, non-renewable resource that we are extracting at an increasing rate and is causing climate change and other ecological problems. 80% of the total energy we use are fossil fuels. We currently are using about 10 units of fossil fuels to provide 1 unit of food to people. And now because the energy cost of extracting fossil fuels is rapidly rising, we have to do more ecological damage for every unit of usable fossil fuels.

gregory byshenk said...

jim, I don't think many of the folks here "miss" that we are in trouble, and that we need solutions. But what most of us (I think) are aiming for is a solution that will actually keep those "at least six billion people" alive, and it is to be hoped, living somewhat well.

That requires technological solutions. No-tech or low-tech means condemning at least a significant part of humanity to misery and starvation. I know that there are some people who relish that thought ("humanity is a cancer!" and suchlike), but I think that most readers here are not.

Larry Hart said...

Kidding on the square (emphasis mine) :

Meanwhile, the only way to remove [Secretary of Transportation Elaine] Chao from office would be impeachment and conviction, and while she has the usual insurance policy of a GOP-controlled Senate, she also has the additional insurance policy of being married to the Majority Leader. She could steer government contracts toward Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, the Unabomber, the American Puppy-Kickers Club, Planned Parenthood, and Satan himself, and she'd still be completely safe. Ok, maybe not Planned Parenthood.

jim said...


Governments, financial institutions and businesses around the world are working to grow the economy. More Economic growth in this world means more ecological damage is being done.
Most of the benefits of economic growth go to those already wealthy and powerful.

We are not trying to solve/ handle / manage the problem – that would mean reducing our collective ecological footprint and redistributing resources to those poorer than us.
We want to continue to grow the economy (and continue to make matters worse) and will do so until we run into the consequences of our actions.

David Brin said...

jim's common thread is "don't bother me to hope, or to lift a finger (because it's hopeless!) Democrats (without a scintilla of evidence and in the face of tsunamis of disproof) are sellouts. Despite the plummet in poverty worldwide, global trade was eeeevil.

And despite discovery of vast new seas of petroleum reservoirs, let me cling to my insistence that we are near peak oil!

jim said...

“vast seas of new petroleum reserves”
Ha ha ha ha ha, that is just hilarious.
First of all there are no seas of oil on the earth, let alone vast new ones.

I guess you are talking about fracked oil. Oil that is in a tight rock formation that must be drilled, enormous hydraulic pressures used to fracture the rock then have the fractures propped open with sand, all so you can extract low molecular weight hydrocarbons for a much shorter period of time than a “normal” oil well. And you get a great deal of waste water from the wells that are sometimes radioactive but always chemically harmful. The frackers also have done a tremendous amount of venting, leaking and flaring of methane causing all the ecological damage and providing none of the economic benefits. Fracking oil comes with a much greater environmental impact than conventional oil.

And then there is the fact that no business has been making money fracking oil. Over the last 10 years the companies fracking for oil have lost more than 250 billion dollars of investment. From the surplus energy economic point of view the reason money continues to flow into the hands of frackers is to drive down the price of oil. By subsidizing the frackers the price of the marginal barrel of oil is greatly reduced preventing high oil prices from crashing the economy.

Catfish 'n Cod said...

We might possibly be near peak fossil oil (though I doubt it). However, any chance of peak oil actually causing Malthusian collapse has been averted by the invention of near-carbon-neutral direct-air-capture petroleum production, as demonstrated by Carbon Engineering.

If -- IF -- peak fossil oil reaches a sufficient scarcity to make DAC a sounder economic choice, it will be built. (I would rather enact carbon taxes and build it a lot sooner.)

Ecological footprint is a separate question.

"More Economic growth in this world means more ecological damage is being done."

Stuff and nonsense. Economic growth's ecological footprint depends on technology level -- and decreases with available technology. This effect has been masked in the last few centuries by the gigantic population expansion that industrial technology made possible, but will become evident in the present century as H. sapiens continues to come off the log-growth curve of the last 10,000 years.

Our World In Data: Population doubling times

I continue to maintain that 1990 was the most important year in human history -- not for any political or other newsmaking event, but because it was The Year of Inflection Point, the moment we clearly had stopped acting like a bacterium mindlessly expanding without limit and became self-limiting... by our own decisions, rather than being reaped upon by the Four Horsemen. Now that the planetary economy need not run the Red Queen's Race, we have the chance to apply that efficiency increase in full -- and maybe, just maybe, save the planet and ourselves as well.

The need is gigantic, the challenge daunting; but matters are far from lost...

...provided the short-sighted do not succeed in their quest to wreck us all.

scidata said...

Remember that Earth is a closed system. The solar system less so. The cosmos wide open for billions of years. Isn't that worth 0.001% of GDP?

Darrell E said...

And that those so assured of our doom who have given up hope to wallow in bitterness don't bring us down.

Darrell E said...

I'm not sure what you may mean by "closed system" but in the context of thermodynamics it is most definitely not. I can't think of another usage you may mean.

scidata said...

@Darrel E

Closed as in limited natural resources.

scidata said...

@Darrell E

Sorry about the misspelling. I was trying to not spell it Darell (as in Toran, Bayta, and Arkady) :)

Darrell E said...

No worries at all about spelling scidata.

I get your meaning about resources. Not quite closed but for practical purposes for all of our history and at least the next several generations, yes. Maybe for all of our history if we don't get our shit tohether. I think we can do it though.

Alfred Differ said...


I get that you are using a toolkit analogy to argue that I have the cart before the horse. My counter is ever the same. That position has to explain why the break-out didn’t happen in China were they had a more complete toolkit regarding doing things in the physical world. It happened in the lowlands of Europe BEFORE those people managed to trade for all the tools the Chinese civilization had already discovered. [What tools the Dutch did have were augmented by a social change that can be seen in cultural artifacts from the era when the breakout occurred.]

If it helps any, I’m not wedded to calling it a ‘capitalist system’. It’s not really about capital, though economists would draw our attention there. It would be more accurate to call it an ‘innovativist system’. Basically, the Dutch found a way to unleash each other to encourage innovation with the tools they had on hand. Their toolkit started as a proper subset of the one available to the Chinese civilization, then they added two new social ones, and then the breakout began. [Breakout from the Great Attractor… just in time to stave off the Hapsburgs.]

Alfred Differ said...


The closure of Mother Earth in the sense of resources is quite the illusion. Besides the obvious fact that we could go mine resources off-world and bring them back (closure busting because humans learned how to fly in a vacuum) there is the much more important fact that we learn how to do more with less as our skills improve. For example, the triodes in my first HF transmitter worked with power levels measured in a few hundred Watts. Their equivalent transistors in my last VHF transmitter worked with power levels about 1/100th as much. Those differences are only partially related to my intended transmission power. Most of it was just “the cost of doing business” within the circuitry involved.

One of the things that got me interested in space exploration (as an adult) was a realization of how environmentally nasty the platinum refinement process is chemically. We need our catalytic converters to avoid pollution, I reasoned, yet platinum refinement on the scale needed to ensure everyone had them was… problematic. Expensive too. I was in my early thirties at the time and thought we could solve it by mining asteroids. (Naïve… I know that now.) However, while I worked the space exploitation angle with a couple of projects, the cost of platinum (and hopefully the environmental costs too) drove innovations that led to reductions in the amount of platinum needed to do the job. I eventually noticed the science/engineering work being done by talented people and realized they were likely to make my work moot. At a minimum, they were likely to undermine the argument I used for doing it.

Along the way, I came across a study that described the cost of transportation and the technologies used for each transport mode. I was very puzzled by the author’s inclination to leave out what actually got transported by each mode. Toward the end of the study he explained why he neglected what seemed important to me. It didn’t matter because the market’s customers would sort things out for you. If you had a method for delivering 1kg to a geostationary transfer orbit that cost $10K and had a minimum and maximum load per flight, the customers wouldn’t fly anything using your service that didn’t justify that price. The question to ask wasn’t what WOULD fly, but whether anything that needed transport could justify your price point. Wanna transport sand from one side of the world to the other? Transport better be ultra-cheap. Wanna fly hard-copy decryption keys needed to unlock enemy secrets before the enemy can respond by changing codes or intercepting them? You might be willing to pay more. It’s close to the “build it and they will come” story except that they might not come. You have to do enough research to have at least a guess whether ANY customers exist and roughly how many.

Mother Earth isn’t a closed system because our minds are not closed. We innovate and shift how resources get used. Even without mining asteroids, which hasn’t happened yet, we change what we do, why we do it, and how we go about finding even better ways to change. Nothing in our Universe is closed… because WE aren’t. No doubt there are some limits, but people who say they’ve found them might live long enough nowadays to be embarrassed by their earlier claims.

scidata said...

Alfred Differ: Mother Earth isn’t a closed system because our minds are not closed.

Reminds me of Asimov's fascination with fractals in later years. Earth is room enough earned me my only 'F' in an otherwise stellar school career. I have a grudge.

I thought I was old, comparing my first 3-transistor pocket radio to my current 3-billion transistor smart phone. I was once a super-het vs regenerative type too. I even learned Morse.

David Brin said...

To be clear. It's not that it's wrong to bring up failure modes, like peak oil or carbon footprints or erroneaous misapplications of globalization or conspiratorial cabals at the top. It's not the cynical wagering that we'll fail.

It is using all of that as an excuse for fat-ass laziness and refusal to lift a finger to help prove the cynicism wrong. It's the WANTING it all to be correct and for us to fail.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Alfred

Yes I'm calling it the "toolkit" - and as a mechanical engineer I can see MASSIVE differences between the toolkits available before and after the big jumps

China did NOT have the tools before - there is a huge difference between something that is available as an incredibly expensive item that only the very rich can own and something that any craftsman can mess about with and experiment with

Alfred Differ said...


We both agree the toolkit grew quickly and became so big that pretty much everything has changed.

I think where we disagree is in what came first. I argue that around 1500, China had the bigger toolkit compared to Lowland dwellers in Europe. I argue that was still the case in 1600 in most of Europe, but by then the Dutch were becoming relatively rich and strong enough to oppose a real military power. By 1700, even the unruly English were were coming up in power. How? They went Dutch. What did they copy? Something NOT in the physical powers toolkit.

Things began to explode before the industrial revolution. Historically, the island of Britain doesn't support more than a few million people farming the land. When the population grew too large, they would die back in a later generation when the weather was less pleasant and a crop or two failed. Around five million... six if you want to be generous. Tops. BEFORE the industrial revolution, those numbers grew above the usual cap and brought about the concerns expressed by Malthus. Eight million-ish. Nine million by the end of the 18th century, but the revolution had arrived by then.

Where the physical toolkit argument runs into issues with the evidence is in how they avoided their Malthusian fate before the revolution got underway. London was getting unusually dense at the start of the 17th and was much more so by the end of that century. Those people didn't even have the expensive toolkit available to the richest Chinese. Some of the Dutch were bringing things home for trade, but not enough to support the MANY more mouths to feed. Basically, the Dutch should have lost to the Hapsburgs in the late 16th or early 17th and the English should have starved in the first half of the 18th. None of that happened, yet neither had access to the larger toolkit available to some of the Chinese.

So... the toolkit may have been expensive and not used widely in China, but it was more expensive and effectively unavailable in Northern Europe where the breakout occurred. Most importantly... WHEN the breakout occurred. Famines in England slowed and halted and THEN the revolution happened, so something else was going on. Hapsburg efforts to retake all of the Lowlands slowed and halted with a peace treaty in 1648 after the Spanish Crown was bankrupted... more than once... even though they owned vast supplies of gold and silver in the New World. Something else was going on. England offers the clearest case, though. Those babies survived before the revolution... and the revolution was sparked by dissenters. History rhyming.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Alfred
I think you are missing the Agricultural Revolution - crop rotation and "Scientific Farms" - that started in the 1500's and became more important in the 1600's
The "Enclosure Acts" of the late 1700's happened because "Scientific Farming" had made such a difference to the lands productivity
A big step was the Norfolk four-course system - of crop rotation that was started in Belgium and introduced into Britain in the 1600's
A different type of toolbox!

If I want to make something I need ALL of the bits - just having 90% of the bits will not give me a working engine

It's the same with the toolbox - the more tools the more you can do - at some stage the "toolbox" hit a critical mass - a step change in what was possible

And the Agricultural toolbox came first - probably had to!

Jon S. said...

"Besides the obvious fact that we could go mine resources off-world and bring them back (closure busting because humans learned how to fly in a vacuum) there is the much more important fact that we learn how to do more with less as our skills improve. For example, the triodes in my first HF transmitter worked with power levels measured in a few hundred Watts. Their equivalent transistors in my last VHF transmitter worked with power levels about 1/100th as much."

Another example: Like most of us here, I grew up with incandescent lightbulbs in my house. They were inefficient, got very hot during use, and could hog as much as 100 watts to light a large area; my folks used to make sure we kept the lights turned off as much as possible to save on the electric bill.

Today, I have LED bulbs in my house. The 60-watt-equivalent we have use about 5 watts each, cost about the same as 60-watt incandescents - and are expected to last for twenty years of normal usage, as opposed to an incandescent bulb's eleven months. (I thought I was going to have to say they were more expensive, because they used to be almost five times as much, but I just did a little research at and found out the price has dropped rather drastically since I got mine.)

So here I am, using bulbs that provide the same amount of light I grew up with but which consume less power in doing so and don't need to be thrown away and replaced every single year. That means that I can maintain at least that portion of the lifestyle I'm used to, while reducing my impact on the world at least a little bit - and it brings the power requirements more in line with less-developed regions by reducing the wattage needed by each household (thus making solar a more attractive option than it used to be).

Jon S. said...

Oh, my wife reminds me that these bulbs were more expensive because she splurged on the kind that have a little wi-fi receiver in the base so she can turn them on and off, and control the brightness, with a remote control. There's also a variety that can change color remotely, but she thought that seemed a little excessive (although these can change in intensity as well as brightness).

So the changes used to make the bulbs more energy-efficient and longer-lasting also make them cooler - both figuratively and literally.

scidata said...

Yeah, but LEDs make me look orange :)

Of course, my original "Earth is a closed system" remark was meant as an argument for space exploration, not for heading on back to the caves.

gregory byshenk said...

Whether or not "Governments, financial institutions and businesses around the world" are taking proper and/or sufficient actions is neither here nor there with respect to the people posting here. It is true (arguably, and I would say plainly) that governments (and 'we' as a society) are not doing all that needs to be done. But that is a very different thing than whether 'we' (the people reading an posting here) are missing the fact that there are serious environmental threats.

And, as others have pointed out, it is not necessarily the case that "[m]ore Economic growth in this world means more ecological damage is being done" - nor that "the benefits of economic growth" must "go to those already wealthy and powerful."

[Indeed, the latter is (at least arguably) not even true in practice. Despite the fact that a large part of the monetary benefits of growth over the last 30 years have gone to the wealthiest in the world, one could certainly argue that lifting hundreds of millions of people out of abject poverty is a greater benefit than bigger yachts for billionaires, no matter how much bigger the yachts might be.]

In either case, these are choices that we (as a society) make about what we do with technology and 'growth', not not properties of technology or 'growth' themselves. Further, those who say things like "more economic growth means more resource degradation" probably don't understand what 'economic growth' means. Others have already given examples, but it is important to understand that 'economic growth' means growth in value not in "stuff". To be sure, for much of human history the only significant way to increase value was to increase stuff (with the resulting increase in resource usage), but that is an accidental feature, not an essential one.

jim said...

You could use DAC to concentrate CO2, but that is a fairly expensive step, better to get high concentration CO2 from the exhaust from a powerplant. But then you still have to put more energy into forming the hydrocarbons than they contain. And if you burn the hydrocarbons in an IC you will only get 30% of the energy back in a useful form. So what you are proposing is a really crappy battery. Not an energy source.

“ Economic growth's ecological footprint depends on technology level -- and decreases with available technology.”

That just is not so. I guess you missed my description of how the higher tech fracking for oil requires more energy, more materials, generates more waste, leaks and vents more methane, produce for a much shorter period of time and doesn’t even generate a profit. Or look at how high tech fishing boats with modern space age drift nets are able to do immensely more damage than guys in small boats with fishing poles. Or look at mountain top removal coal mining. Or hell, just look at the footprint for bitcoin vs paper money.

Now onto population growth and ecological destruction.

Population growth is only the beginning of the problem and it is also the easiest to deal with. The real problem is consumption.

Look at China recent history. By1990 china had long passed your population infection point, and from 1990 to today the population grew a bit less than 25% but its economy (and the ecological damage being done) grew 33 times larger.

Alfred Differ said...


Good of you to bring up the four-crop system. 8)

Its initial adoption in Waasland was about getting by on soggy land. It is an adaptation not unlike what people do to get by anywhere else, so I wouldn’t count it among the boom growth tools. However… it worked and occurred in the lowland border region with modern day Netherlands. The Dutch didn’t really need it, but the English did. You’ll note that Townsend’s advocacy of the system occurred AFTER the English were in full swing in their adoption of Dutch ways and the theft of the Dutch trading empire. Also, Townsend’s advocacy required the two social tools developed by the Dutch or the English would not have gone there. Tull and Bakewell were innovationists on the same path. All three make clear the impact the physical tools can have, but I’m pointing out what some of us believe to be a necessary precursor. England’s Agricultural Revolution required they first adopt the Dutch adaptations to the meanings of various virtues… which they began when they had their little rebellion/revolution in 1688-89. Without the Dutch culture changes, innovations would have been as limited in England as they were in China and there would have been no boom.

To see the arrival of the definition changes and partial liberation with a grant of some dignity to innovationists, you have to look to the stories they wrote at the time. If you look at demographics or economic estimates, you’ll likely NOT follow the causal chain back far enough to find the anchor point. It’s in the stories. What do we mean by honesty, courage, temperance, justice and all that? It’s in the stories. They changed earlier and the minds that housed them began to see the world and each other in a different way. Then boom.

Alfred Differ said...


Heh. Yah. Triodes. That's why I was careful in saying it was my first HF transmitter. Solid state devices WERE in my pocket radio receiver, but not so much in the transmitter. It's a power thing. Back in those days, they just couldn't handle what is required to put 1KW out the antenna. They just fried.

I get that you were arguing FOR expansion into space. Never doubted that.

I just wanted to help by pointing out that some of us get hung up on WHAT flies and think that the price at which it flies is secondary. The customer sees it the other way around. Investors do too. Ponder the price point you can hit for any particular entrepreneurial solution... then see if there are customers who have anything they want done at that price. We usually start innovating from the idea first, but we have to turn it like this before talking to investors or they won't take our meetings. They ALWAYS ask about market size and competitors. Work the innovation question in what feels like a backwards way and one will have answers ready for the investors.

Alfred Differ said...

One issue with the ‘peak oil’ argument is what we mean by peak.

I was taught the difference between a mineral and an ore by a mining consultant. The ore looks just the same, but it can be delivered to market at a profit.

I sincerely doubt we’ll run out of oil, coal, or any other fossil carbon fuel. I’d bet every dollar I have, though, that the costs they impose on us to extract them AND use them will swiftly grow larger turning them from ‘ore’ into ‘mineral’ in the near future. Therefore, I won’t invest in fossil carbon and I’m inclined to bet against that industry.

They way out involves some mix of renewables, nuclear, and a small amount of fossil carbon. I don’t care what the mix is between the first two as long as the energy supply is robust and reliable. Those too have their ‘mineral’ and ‘ore’ states that require good engineering skills to turn the first into the second. If we get out of this alive with our civilization intact, it will be the engineers who earned the medals.

Catfish 'n Cod said...

@jim: A 'crappy' battery? Au contraire, mon ami. Short of liquid hydrogen or hydrogen gas -- which pose handling problems -- hydrocarbon fuels are the best at high energy density per unit mass. In applications where Every Gram Counts -- flight being the most obvious that comes to mind -- using hydrocarbons as fuel makes the most sense.

Using hydrocarbons as fuel for stationary power plants makes no sense if lower-carbon energy sources are available, and indeed the switchover is already happening as coal plants age out without replacement and wind power is exploding; it's just that we could do it faster if we really tried. Ground transport is somewhere in between -- the optimum might be somewhere around plug-in hybrids if we can deal with the carbon cost of the battery production process.

Better than using powerplant CO2 exhaust would be chemical plant CO2 exhaust: likely cleaner and is simply an add-on with additional product for already in-place processes. But energy production wasn't the point of my proposal, as you might have figured out from my initial scenario of powering the DAC with solar. The point is that the benefits of geography, geology, and trade restrictions for resource-rich countries can be nullified. Nobody fights wars for iron ore; there's too many sources and too much trade. Resource wars are only necessary when the supply can be restricted. Implement DAC and your oil supply depends on your energy sources, not the other way around.


I state that technology permits greater efficiency, and you come back with technologies used to increase quantity -- then complain about the greater quantity of ecological impact! Way to miss the point. It's the quantity of demand that causes the quantity of impact! Measure delivering the same *quantity* with higher technology and you can achieve *lower* impact, because you're not wasting most of your energy/materials/labor/et cetera.

That's if you're trying, of course. If you make pollution a goal (for, say, reasons of private profit by externalizing costs) then of course you have more impact. But that's due to how we *organize* our efforts, not the *technology*. Seeing the problem more clearly helps tune your crisis response... and avoids having everyone in the world striving for a better life (which is still the majority by a fair shot) angry at you for telling them to stay poor. (Which is how it gets interpreted no matter how nuanced your arguments are.)

David Brin said...

"Population growth is only the beginning of the problem and it is also the easiest to deal with. The real problem is consumption."

A perfect example! Overpopulation was THE core malthusian catastrophe that all cynics shrugged and assumed would be the end of us all (as they smilled gleefully, yay cynicism!)

Only... all of a sudden that inevitable doom wasn't anymore! Oh no! Coulkd this prove that problems can be solved? And thereupon I might be called upon to lift a finger? Can't have that!!!

No, the old peril was "easily solved." Yeah, that's the ticket, It was never a problem to start with. Let's... um... let's turn to... people rising up out of poverty! Yep, THEY are the problem!

In fact, I agree. We must develop efficient ways for billions to get most of the comforts I enjoy, at 5% of the per capita cost and footprint. It can happen. But lots of people have to lift more than a finger. And jerks who see the problems while shrugging off any duty to act on them are worse than the right wing troglodytes.

duncan cairncross said...

comforts I enjoy, at 5% of the per capita cost and footprint.

That's what engineers do!

Lithium batteries were $1000/kWh - now down to $100/kWh - and moving down towards the material costs of $20/kWh
Solar panels have had a similar trajectory

It takes time and hard work but we are getting there

Which is why I am terribly disappointed about Nuclear power as it does NOT appear to have dropped in cost in the last 50 years

Alfred Differ said...

Which is why I am terribly disappointed about Nuclear power as it does NOT appear to have dropped in cost in the last 50 years

Are we actually trying? (I don't see much effort.)

duncan cairncross said...

I did a Nuclear Engineering course at University back in the 70's - and I thought about going into that field

The thing that put me off was the fact that everything was checked - rechecked - and then stopped "just in case"
One of our metallurgists at Uni had a solution to the problems with the AGR's and their issues with stainless steel
But they flatly refused to even test it and simply reduced the temperature - with a massive effect on the efficiency

I did not fancy working in an industry where 90% of the "work" was checking and it was almost impossible to get any changes implemented

I wonder if that is why we have made so little progress - even in China

Possibly we will only make real progress with nuclear power when we are using it in space - as in building and using in space

TCB said...

Duncan, tinkering with nuclear powerplants, in outer space, like some shade tree mechanic, is COMPLETELY UNSAFE.

Look what happened to Epstein in The Expanse. (I mean, sure, he opened up the outer planets to the human race... but a deadman switch would have been nice... even lawn mowers have them, for pete's sake...)

gregory byshenk said...

I don't have an FT subscription, but the quotes a friend shared make this look like it could be of interest in the 'smart capitalists pushing for change' arena.

Zepp Jamieson said...

I think Earth-based fission plants are pretty much a dead-end technology. Nobody has an acceptable solution to the problems of wastes and In The Events Of.
Fusion technology is making progress, slowly but surely. We've gone from millionths of a second containment in the 80s to about two minutes now, and the Chinese achieved K (more energy out than in) just last year. Elusive but non unattainable, it remains the golden grail of energy sources.
Meanwhile, renewable energy is not only much cheaper than fission (and always has been if you remove the subsidies) but is now cheaper than coal or oil.

jim said...

I have repeatedly referenced the nearly 50 year old Limits To Growth study, something I am sure you read and understood. In that model population is clearly only one part of the problem, so for you to imply that I am somehow moving the goalposts on what constitutes a sustainable society is just hilariously dishonest.

Then you continue your dishonest attack saying I am not lifting a finger when I have done almost everything that is within my control to respond to the crisis we are in. The work that I do, the way I spend my money and time, and how I invest are all deeply shaped by the crisis we are in.

duncan cairncross said...


Tinkering in space is unsafe - but only for the immediate neighbours

TCB said...

True, true... as long as you don't collapse the false vacuum.

Catfish 'n Cod said...

@jim: If you are going to base your reactions on a fifty-year-old study, you probably should acknowledge and at least minimally react to fifty years of criticism.

Limits To Growth is simply a fancy way of stating an obvious fact: exponential growth of anything cannot continue forever. The point of the study was to point to the evident, but non-obvious, fact that linear extrapolation is insufficient for making long-term plans. In that sense it was an important and even seminal study.

As a detailed or even handwaved plan for dealing with the problem, it is a farce. Most of the "fixes" that were "tested" in their system simply changed resource constraints or efficiencies.... by a fixed factor. As if progress were not incremental (punctuated by discoveries and waves of innovation) -- as if technology were not an *evolving variable*!

Of course population growth is not the sole thing to fix; it simply means that resources can be turned to fixing *other things*. And as others have also pointed out, the Limits to Growth model assumes the world to be a closed system... which becomes an invalid assumption if we can start an economy beyond Earth's surface.

There are just too many variables for any "model" to be adequately trained upon -- even if we knew what technologies will come about, which of course we don't. What Limits to Growth really demonstrates is something they were not very familiar with in 1972: the limits to computer models. And the most important message of Limits to Growth -- the behavior of an exponential curve and the unyielding mathematical demand that it must end; the concept of carrying capacity; the insistence that "business as usual" cannot be forever... those messages got through to the world population, even the average joe.

Still to be done: wrest control of key elements of the world from people who don't care what the effects of limits of growth are, so long as they are on top.

Catfish 'n Cod said...

Back to our host's topic. What is vastly underappreciated is why the rank and file Union rose to answer Lincoln's call to arms. The Union raised hundreds of thousands of men from the plow to the rifle in an incredibly short time. Why? It certainly wasn't for the rights of the oppressed slave.

It was, in point of fact, the same reason their forefathers had revolted: closure of the frontier, and of opportunity.

It was far more than just the Fugitive Slave Act, even though that made things local and therefore personal for far more Northerners than ever before. The renegotiation of the Missouri Compromise had seemingly defused the issue in 1850, but Kansas-Nebraska, Bleeding Kansas, and Dred Scott made it clear that the South would not keep agreements once they became inconvenient. (Sound familiar?) The South had been pushing for more slave lands for twenty years or so by this point: calling for Cuban annexation, then leveraging the annexation of Texas into the Mexican War, only to have the richest land -- California -- admitted without slavery; then private 'filibustering' as the North made it clear it would not do any further conquering on the South's behalf; and finally, and increasingly, Southern encroachment on the Northerners' frontier -- all while building federal influence to sustain their unsustainable economy. Is it any wonder, therefore, that the common yeoman of the North came to fear 'the Slave Power'? The Northerners didn't want the slaves freed for the slaves' sake: they wanted to free the slaves to prevent the slaveowners from dominating the yeomen of the North.

This actually ties back to jim's references to Limits to Growth. The South simply could not countenance the idea that their expansion had limits -- indeed they had already depleted the soil in much of the South, such that they would not achieve the insane yields of the boom years again until synthetic fertilizer and mechanical harvesting arrived. The Southern dream could not work; and rather than face that reality, they chose to drown the nation in blood -- then blame the results of their folly on the conflict they themselves created. I can't emphasize that enough: the economic crash of the South would have happened with or without the Civil War. And with that crash would have been the destruction of immense 'capital' that was, in fact, the poisoned fruit of mass forced labor.

TCB said...

Catfish, your mention of filibusteros reminds me of Walker, Alex Cox's nutty but very good movie starring Ed Harris as William Walker, probably the best known of them. He tried to establish a slave state in Nicaragua and managed to make himself President in July 1856 before getting forced out the following May. In 1860 he went to Honduras and was honored with a guest appearance before a Honduran firing squad.

David Brin said...

First, Limits to Growth WAS Malthusian and population centered, and that was the better part. The part about resource exhaustion led to the infamous bet on commodities futures that the authors lost, overwhelmingly. At least there was SOME reason to believe in doom by population. The resource exhaustion scenario has always been loony.

No, it’s pollution and environmental degradation. And eliminating poverty without wrecking the planet. What some of us said then and I said in EARTH and that is going on now.
“The work that I do, the way I spend my money and time, and how I invest are all deeply shaped by the crisis we are in.”

Hm, well, then try talking about that some time, instead of raving that it’s all hopeless. That is the chant of someone trying to excuse laziness. And if you ARE trying to help… while believing it is useless… then… why?

Oh, if computer models don’t work, then socialism doesn’t So…. The wisdom of crowds in markets?


Catfish. Another grievance. The South was blocking a transcontinental railroad by insisting it start at Vicksburg.

Catfish 'n Cod said...

@Dr. Brin:

Yeah, the first half with the description of the most relevant feedback loops (descriptive only!) was pretty solid. It was the "oh, here are all the linear fixes! Oh, what do you know, linear fixes don't solve exponential problems!" part that was pretty worthless. Eventually they conceded that with enough improvements in food production, pollution control, family planning, etc., a steady state could be achieved by the mid-21st century in their model.... and then, supposedly, pollution and resources would collapse anyway... when that was more due to the limitations of the model than anything else.

Modeling the world of 2100 even now is folly; it was even more so in 1972. It makes as much sense to forecast pollution disaster that far out as it did to forecast New York's impending doom by horse poop in 1900. We are overwhelmingly likely to have different problems.


On markets: I just realized a very pithy way to sum up the problems of oligarchy and capitalism:

"You can't find the wisdom of crowds unless the crowds are in control."

In other words, the more oligarchic a market becomes -- monopoly, oligopoly, monopsony, oligopsony, overregulation, middleman capture, corruption, cheating, lying, whatever -- the less wise it can possibly be, because someone somewhere is imposing top-down central planning.

Central planning regulation tends to be bad. But anti-cheating regulation... can build a *better* market than laissez-faire ever could. Because in a world without restraints, crime pays; and a cornered market is a dumb market.

On the railroad:

Do you have evidence that it was an imbalanced grievance, though? As I understood things, the North was equally blocking the South; the Southern Pacific route really would have been the cheaper one, but starting the route at Vicksburg would have put the whole West at the mercy of the South. Likewise starting at Omaha or Minneapolis would have equally put the West totally in the North's power, plus the extra cost and snow restrictions.

Really, starting at Kansas City was the only possible compromise, and would not have made a huge immediate difference than starting at Omaha/Council Bluffs, which was the eventual result. Once Bleeding Kansas was underway, KC was no longer a politically viable option, meaning there was no way to make a single railroad serve both sides; the compromise after that would have been to authorize both to start simultaneously, which would have slowed both projects.

It's all part and parcel of the same problem: there was no way to divvy up the West that could meet all the South's demands, because the South's demands were logistically impossible.

jim said...

You are not too far from understanding the Limits to Growth model.
It is a fairly simple model, but its purpose was to explore the dynamics of an interlinked model for the economy and the environment. The most robust finding was that the system goes through a boom then a bust. From talking with Forrester and Meadows they think that time lags between actions and feedback are a critical part of problem. If we had strong, immediate feedback things would be a lot better. But we actually have weak, complex, time delayed feedback and that really allows for things to get out of control.

Catfish 'n Cod said...

@jim: You'll pardon me if I will make assessments of understanding independent of your opinion. If a finding is that 'robust' in a model, it's time to ask if it's intrinsic to the study design.

Which is not to say that the authors are wrong about delays in feedback loops! I completely agree! It's the whole point of things like carbon taxes, monetizing recycling, etc. to close and tighten those loops!

But I've looked at the so-called 'updates' to Limits to Growth, too. And it still stubbornly insists on modeling everything as 'exponential' despite available evidence that many things -- especially population growth -- are no longer exponential!

Maybe the world isn't moving towards sustainability fast enough for YOU. But don't try to pretend we are all still in 1970, or even 2000. Try targeting your ire on the people whose heads are still back there -- who are, almost exactly, the same people blocking us from further sustainability.

David Brin said...

Catfish would you go along with this revised version?

"You don't get ‘the wisdom of crowds’ unless the crowd has knowledge and power. But those with power view empowered crowds as a mindless mob."

jim said...

The global environment is in way wore shape today than in the 1970’s.

More pollutants released in the environment this year than ever before.

I would not say that we are moving towards sustainability at all. We are still obsessed with economic growth and all the damage that comes with it. All we have done is added some solar panels and wind turbines to the mountains of fossil fuels we use. Earth overshoot day comes earlier and earlier every year.

Catfish 'n Cod said...

I counter with:

"You don't get ‘the wisdom of crowds’ unless the crowd has knowledge and power. The powerful fear educated, empowered crowds: they prefer to see them as mindless mobs."

TheMadLibrarian said...

Pollution varies by type; plastics are up, but air pollution is down. It also moves around the globe according to how 'enlightened' the government, businesses, and public are; witness the mass burning of rainforest in Brazil to clear land. India and China recently cracked down on people who recycle the mounds of electronic waste that used to be shipped over from the US and other countries. They got tired of polluting their own country by crudely burning and stripping electrical components for the valuable metals. Overall, though, we are making progress.

David Brin said...

off to Nashville and Huntsville for speeches and NIAC



Tony Fisk said...

If you think things look bad at the moment, remember that it's Stanislav Petrov day.

Celebrate, because you can.