The point of no return

Tue, Mar 5, 2013


Yesterday I was interviewed by Guy Evans at Smells Like Human Spirit. The podcast and description are embedded here and also below.

Premiere poster


Please join me in supporting Blazing Kat Productions, the voice and images of the Occupy movement. Donate here.

Pin It
, , , , , ,

302 Responses to “The point of no return”

  1. Tom Says:

    Here we go again with some scientists claiming tipping points aren’t backed up by science:

    of course it was countered by Hansen, Ehrlich and Mann as [bullshit]

  2. Martin Lack Says:

    To be fair to humans alive at the time, in 1960, we already knew quite a bit about the problem of climate change. By 1965, President Lyndon B Johnson went public about it (and so began the campaign to deny the problem).

    I really sympathise with Guy (McP) having friends, family and former colleagues who think he’s gone crazy. That is how I feel (that I am going crazy) and, I am sure, those that know me will say the same if I walk away from “normal” society.

    Equating the pursuance of self-interest with extinction by natural selection seemed at first to be a novel idea. However, although very important, it is not novel: It is a very neat summary of the message of Garrett Hardin’s (1968) ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ article in Science magazine.

    I am very interested to hear about how Tuscon AZ was chosen (if not simply by inertia) since SW states have been suffering drought conditions for nearly two decades now.

    The Earth could support 15 billion people living as the poorest do; but it can only support 1.5 billion living like those in the USA. Therefore, even if the Earth is not yet overpopulated, its current population / consumption distribution is morally indefensible.

    I feel like this is a “Red Pill or Blue Pill?” moment.

  3. Tom Says:


    So after listening to the talk, we’re up to 10 feedbacks now? – i can’t keep up! i finally got the first eight down from a few posts back, but what are the two besides that original list?

  4. Guy McPherson Says:

    Tom, I’ve updated this post to include all ten feedbacks. And I list them below:

    Methane hydrates are bubbling out the Arctic Ocean (Science, March 2010)

    Warm Atlantic water is defrosting the Arctic as it shoots through the Fram Strait (Science, January 2011)

    Siberian methane vents have increased in size from less than a meter across in the summer of 2010 to about a kilometer across in 2011 (Tellus, February 2011)

    Drought in the Amazon triggered the release of more carbon than the United States in 2010 (Science, February 2011)

    Peat in the world’s boreal forests is decomposing at an astonishing rate (Nature Communications, November 2011)

    Methane is being released from the Antarctic, too (Nature, August 2012)

    Russian forest and bog fires are growing (NASA, August 2012)

    Cracking of glaciers accelerates in the presence of increased carbon dioxide (Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics, October 2012)

    Exposure to sunlight increases bacterial conversion of exposed soil carbon, thus accelerating thawing of the permafrost (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, February 2013)

    Arctic drilling was fast-tracked by the Obama administration during the summer of 2012

  5. Paul Chefurka Says:


    I think your numbers are hopelessly optimistic. If we take the global per-capita fossil, hydro and nuclear energy use as a proxy for the “AT” term of I=PAT, and multiply by P, we discover that our Impact on the planet is now about 130 times what it was in 1800:

    If we wanted to limit our planetary impact to what it was in 1900, the world could support at most 100 million people at today’s American standard of “living”. And I know of no one who would argue that even that limited level of impact is sustainable over the long term.

    15 billion people all living like Bangladeshis would have the same impact on the planet as the Earth’s population of 1950. To achieve true sustainability your expectations need to be scaled back by about an order of magnitude.

    The directionality inherent in the laws of thermodynamics that govern self-organized systems tell us that’s impossible until after we’ve used up most of the planet’s energy stores.

  6. Michael Doliner Says:

    This is such a disappointing talk. It circled around the really important fact that nothing we can now do will make any difference. We have to live sustainably not because we think it will do any good, for it won’t, but because living properly is a gesture. We are like the defenders of the Alamo but instead of fighting to the end in a lost cause we have to do the reverse–stop fighting in a lost cause. The whole situation is almost too tragic for words. The best we humans can now do is make this gesture of piety.

  7. Martin Lack Says:

    @PaulChefurka They are not my numbers but they may well be out of date: They were cited, by Sir David Attenborough, towards the end of this BBC Horizon programme broadcast just over a year ago:
    How Many People Can Live On Planet Earth (YouTube video)

  8. Paul Chefurka Says:


    Fair enough. It goes to show you that even men as august as Attenborough wear cultural blinders that cause them to be hopelessly overoptimistic.

  9. Ess Says:

    I listened to the interview. I appreciated learning about your journey, Guy. In many ways, it reminded me of my own when I came to Alaska in ’90. I did not build a mud hut; I built a wood shack. On a mobile home I-beam frame, because I couldn’t afford a foundation, and it’s a long story. I do have electricity for a utility. Apart from the phone, it is my only utility.

    We see the sandhill cranes here in the spring and summer. They are deafening when they call! It is so amazing to hear them! Also, trumpeter swans. One year I drove the Denali Highway and there were tundra swans in every puddle for miles, absolutly thousands of them, on their way to their nesting regions. I always keep bird feeders. Understanding birds and their territories, I was extraordinarily proud when I counted eleven species of birds and their babies at my bird feeders one summer. My area supported that many seed-eating species. There were, of course, others that did not feed from the feeder. I saw three kinds of warblers throughout the summer, as well.

    I cannot bring myself to put pesticides or herbicides on my lawn. It looks it, too. I am a hillbilly, I fear. “Weeds” are us.

    I saw a bald eagle yesterday. I see them frequently, and yet it is always still a thrill. Even now, after twenty-three years, I love to see the eagles. Spring is around the next corner, and each one is more precious as time passes.

  10. Kathy C Says:

    Hugo Chavez dies
    Song for Hugo Chavez
    by David Rovics

  11. Randy Crompton Says:

    Thank you Guy for your presentation. I just passed my five year anniversary (November 2007) when I walked away from my “career” at the Department of Homeland Stupidity. Walking away from empire is a real challenge but it has also been very rewarding.

  12. Tom Says:

    Guy: thanks for the update. i knew about the glaciers (after making it a point to see Chasing Ice with my grandson a few weeks back), but i thought it was covered already. Also, didn’t i just read today somewhere where Shell is calling off its Arctic drilling for this year?
    yeah, here it is:

    Randy C: thanks for making that choice!

    Michael: i understand your viewpoint, but i think Guy does it right in his presentations by not hitting people over the head like, say, an Alex Jones might, but rather lets the information sink in to the point that people will, upon reflection, realize that we’re on our way out (and soon). All the cited work by scientists indicate that any ONE of the points he brings up could doom humanity to extinction and he points out TEN measurable changes that all interact and will cause calamity in the near future. Just sayin’.

  13. BC Nurse Prof Says:

    Paul: Complexity expands fractally. I get that. What does this say about Joseph Tainter’s Collapse of Complex Systems? Is it another special case like genetic evolution?

    Secondly, how can complexity be the fastest way to entropy? I don’t get that.

  14. Tom Says:

    Haven’t we seen this movie?:

    The era of drone wars is already upon us. The era of robot wars could be fast approaching.

    Already there are unmanned aircraft demonstrators like the arrow-head shaped X-47B that can pretty-well fly a mission by itself with no involvement of a ground-based “pilot”.

    There are missile systems like the Patriot that can identify and engage targets automatically.

    And from here it is not such a jump to a fully-fledged armed robot warrior, a development with huge implications for the way we conduct and even conceive of war-fighting.

  15. ulvfugl Says:

    @ BC Nurse Prof

    Secondly, how can complexity be the fastest way to entropy? I don’t get that.

    Perhaps this helps explain ?

  16. Anthony Says:

    NOAA Data for February is out. Here is the YOY ppm increase by month:

    2012 393.14 393.54 394.44 396.18 396.78 395.82 394.30 392.41 391.05 391.01 392.81 394.28
    Difference: 1.9 1.7 2.0 2.8 2.5 2.1 1.9 2.3 2.1 2.1 2.6 2.4

    2013 395.5 396.80
    Difference: 2.4 3.3

    The formatting is off due to page width. The take-away is atmospheric CO2 is accelerating at an accelerating rate. YOY change by decade is about 1.7 in the 90s, 2.1 in the 00s. January ’13 is 2.4, February ’13 is 3.3 ppm higher than last year.

  17. Tony Weddle Says:

    Good interview, Guy. I too wonder how many people actually alter their lives significantly as a result of not just your essays but of those of many people who explain the deterioration of our natural environment as a result of this set of living arrangements. I think I’m slowly getting there, though it may end up being the greatest mis-match in history (even worse than your claimed lack of awareness of the differences between a zucchini and a screwdriver). However, a five acre patch of nothing (though not in the middle of a desert – yet – thankfully) now awaits us (my wife and myself).

    I have a question about the issues you’ve raised in your writings and talks over the recent batch of years. Is there any research or conclusions that you’ve mentioned which has either subsequently been shown to be wrong or from which you’ve discovered you’ve characterised incorrectly? I’m not talking of subsequent research or thought showing that things are worse, but that things are better (or, at least, not quite as bad).

    One possible example of this is that some recent research by Professor Stork in Australia, published in Science, appeared to show that the extinction rate was probably nowhere near as bad as is often claimed, partly because estimates of species numbers are likely overblown. It wasn’t an optimistic piece of research but would not support a claim of 200 species per day being driven to extinction.

  18. Kathy C Says:

    Martin, you give no source for how many people this planet could hold at different rates of lifestyle. Do you have any or is it just your guess.

    Going forward the planet would have held less and less humans and other life because we have so depleted the soils, the fossil water sources (like the Ogalla Reservoir) and perhaps most importantly depleted our favorable climate. Per Lester Brown ” Every one-degree Centigrade increase in temperature will reduce grain yields by 10 percent,” Already grain yeilds are decreasing due to unpredictable weather. It has been proposed that the reason agriculture took off when it did was that the climate settled into a 10,000 year climate that was favorable to agriculture.

    I say would have because the methane time bomb, 400 Chernobyls, and nuclear war (take your pick) will finish us off.

  19. Martin Lack Says:

    @Kathy: With respect, I have explained where the numbers I quoted came from (i.e. a BBC Horizon programme broadcast a year ago). The research cited by the narrator (Sir David Attenborough) is that of Professor William E. Rees at the University of British Columbia. I suggest that you and Paul contact him if you wish to dispute his conclusions.

  20. Tom Says:

    Just like with Chernobyl, “fixing” Fukushima is going to be a long process.

    Paul, u, others: after reading Swenson i’m beginning to get the picture. Very neat conjecture. [It doesn’t explain consciousness, but perhaps it’s unexplainable.] Does the theory hold on the quantum level where perhaps inter-dimensional weird stuff is going on?

    Kathy: yeah, i’m pretty sure one of these springs, real soon, we’re going to get the Silent Spring scenario – all over the globe – where nothing blooms, nothing greens-up, and nothing grows any more. That’s where the slow decline turns into rapid die-off. The overfished and toxically polluted oceans won’t be able to feed the masses either. i think the methane bomb may explode real soon too – this year or next possibly (look at the warming of the northern hemisphere over the past decade and it could very well be this year). Sure hope not, but i don’t see anyone changing the dominant fossil-fuel based paradigm anytime soon, so what’s to prevent it? (Geo-engineering? Don’t even go there.) i see a convergence of many systemic problems overwhelming us (and the planet) in the very near term: from infrastructure neglect and decay (like water, sewage and gas piping, the electrical grid, etc) to ramped up aggression by various nation-states to economic collapse here and abroad, resource wars between nations, states, counties, etc as drought bites down hard, storm damage on the increase (with less insurance company pay-outs), steadily less food production (and ocean harvesting), dying vegetation (of all kinds) from the increasing hydrogen sulfide, CO2 and ozone pollution, nuclear problems on the rise (and the inability of broke companies, states and countries to deal with them), sea level rise, the aforementioned methane bomb from the melting permafrost/peat bogs, the dying rainforests, the breakdown of society and civilization as martial law becomes evident (right now, here, FEMA is trying to sneak it around us, see my link below) and others associated with Peak Oil, huge unemployment rise (world-wide), panic, desperation and violence.

  21. Tom Says:

    Everyone in the US should read the documents linked to here.

  22. Guy McPherson Says:

    Tony Weddle, you ask: “I have a question about the issues you’ve raised in your writings and talks over the recent batch of years. Is there any research or conclusions that you’ve mentioned which has either subsequently been shown to be wrong or from which you’ve discovered you’ve characterised incorrectly?”

    Two items come to mind: (1) I cited the International Energy Agency’s “peak oil” claim of 9.1% annual decline rate, published in late 2008. It was clearly incorrect. (2) I probably misinterpreted the same organization’s “global change” claim of 3.5 C temperature increase by 2035. Apparently they meant 2100, although it’s unclear from their report.

  23. Kathy C Says:

    Martin, apologies, I was responding to your initial comment and didn’t see the reply to Paul. If that is what Attenborough I doubt that it is supported by Rees. I watched the whole video some time back and thought Attenborough was excessively optimistic. If he thinks that is what Rees says it would be an extrapolation of the ecological footprint idea and I suppose if you extrapolate the lives of those who use less than 1 planet you could fit a bunch more on, but that is ignoring Peak Oil and climate change which I am sure Rees is aware of. I would hardly think that Rees thinks that by just using the footprint numbers that that means that such a population is sustainable. The reason humanity as a whole is currently using 1.5 earths is because we are using up the ancient sunlight stored in oil, coal, gas and top soil. Sort of like someone who can live off the interest of money in the bank but wants more so starts using up the capital and for that brief exuberance pays with having in the end nothing.

    I don’t know if Attenborough knows but I am sure Rees knows that post oil the planet cannot sustain as many as it now sustains much less more. Ecological overshoot reduces how many critters can be sustained.

    For example we feed 100 chickens scratch on 1 acre of land. If we had say 4 chickens they probably could live on the 1 acre without feed. But if we stopped feeding our 100 chickens would eat everything living and then start eating each other and the land would be reduced to a state where it could not feed even the 4. The farmed land in this country and the world has been eroded because of overshoot, it has been poisoned because of overshoot. I doubt that it could sustain even the population of humans when agriculture began much less twice as many as today.

    Doesn’t matter we are toast

  24. Kathy C Says:

    And then there is nuclear war –

    Pick your toast –

    Besides everyone born dies, everyone not born does not die. The born are toast from the moment of their birth

    By death I mean that event that is declared when brain waves can no longer be detected. (have to keep putting up the disclaimer to fend of the “there is no death” folks)

  25. ulvfugl Says:

    @ Tom

    Paul, u, others: after reading Swenson i’m beginning to get the picture. Very neat conjecture. [It doesn’t explain consciousness, but perhaps it’s unexplainable.] Does the theory hold on the quantum level where perhaps inter-dimensional weird stuff is going on?

    Hmmm. Seems to me, that if the way I’m understanding it is right ( which it may not be ) and if what Swenson says is right ( which there’s a possibility it is not, in some way ) then prospects are far more dismal than anyone could possibly ever have imagined.

    Previously people have theorised that we got into this mess because of our genetic heritage ( e.g. Guy mentions in his talk, human males like to show off to females, and females are impressed by displays, like flashy new gadgets ) or the discovery of agriculture, or people could blame capitalism with its inbuilt necessity for growth and consumption and exploitation, or they could blame religious or ideological or cultural beliefs that disrespected nature, or they could blame the Enlightenment myth of scientific progress, and so on and so on… many different analyses.

    Basically, the idea has been, if we could identify and diagnose the cause, maybe we could cure the disease and fix the problem some how. Maybe if we are ‘bad’ we could become ‘good’, or if the economic system is wrong, we could change it, find a technofix, whatever.

    But what appears to be the case, all that stuff is just stories we have been telling ourselves. Rationalisations. Bit like the ancients trying to explain why there are stars in the night sky.

    If this entropy thingee holds up, what it means is that there is a much deeper, more fundamental principle operating, that must apply equally to bacteria, ants, and us, it’s built into the physics.

    Just like those smoking energy vents on the floor of the deep ocean, whenever we find a source of energy, like blind shrimps, we’ll cluster around it and exploit the hell out of it, regardless of the consequences.

    It’s not like ‘we’, as humans, or as people, are doing this. It’s what evolution has been doing since it began. It’s what the whole fucking Universe has been doing since it began.

    This fills me with horror and dismay.

    Worse than coming to terms with NTE.

    Daniel wrote that superb and moving post about us here having had six months to come to terms with NTE, and most of us still not having fully come to terms with the shock.

    I’ve had about a week to bounce this stuff about the Law of Maximum Entropy Production, LMEP, around in my head.

    I wish someone would show how it can’t be correct. I’ve been reading pretty much flat out for days. i didn’t find any escape clauses yet 🙁

    It’s almost like ‘It is written in the stars that you earthlings are doomed, whatever you do, because whatever you do, will result in your destruction’…..

    I mean, why should that be so ? It’s kinda crazy… laugh ? cry ? Vanity of vanities, all is vanity…

  26. OzMan Says:


    Listening to the interview, and recalling some of the writing in ‘Walking Away From Empire’, I got to thinking about your term:

    “living at the Apex of Empire..”

    You self describe this is where you were when you decided you needed to walk away .
    I accept this, and in some broard way I agree.

    However, in the particular, and without knowing any details about your salary and perks, as a full tenured professor, I wish to contest that the Apex was where you were.

    I propose, on balance, you were at the apex of the middle class of empire, or only at ‘Base Camp of Empire’.

    Some points:

    Empire rewards more people in the wealthier group than just those players in the political and business areas. A sizable group of dare I say well educated and highly efficient ‘Betas’ are needed to make all kinds of enabling agency occur, and they would not do it for love of Empire alone, so they get rewarded such that they feel close to the wealthiest tier of the Empire.

    These are the ones who are rewarded to the extent that ego concerns are meant to block the deeper levels of critical thinking, and reflection on the bigger picture, IMO.

    So without accusing you of anything, I’d say you enjoyed the great freedoms and highly pleasant distractions of that life, and that distractive power worked for a time, but not forever.

    Once you discovered the ‘chink’ in the ‘armour’ of Empire( many more I suppose), which was thinking critically about the presumptions of Empire, and then (aka Arandati Roy), once you saw it you could not look away.

    BTW, IMO this is an archetypal act where a hero makes the decision to be him or herself, and leaves the ‘mother’ behind. ( a bit nebulous and loadd I concede but I can go there with some confidence) In that act you became who you were on an inner level all along (for now at least), and left behind the shell, or skin of the old self, (snake oil is sold as grift to aging women for a reason…).

    I contend that the Apex of Empire is somewhere higher up, to continue the summit metaphore, and you were living at ‘Base Camp of Empire’, (or maybe ‘Camp 1…how many are there?).

    The apex is not something ‘we’ are ever supposed to actually see, (cloudy most days), except it can happen when extreme events come by, which they did in 2008-2009, and then we got a glimpse of the Apex.

    The ‘Occupy’ initiative is continually trying to keep blowing the clouds back long enough for as many people to see as possible, for as ;long as possible.

    I honestly don’t mean to detract from the general thrust of your argument, or metaphore, regarding the ease of living that your position had brought with it to you. I am only posing to reset the baseline for what is uber-wealth and ‘freedom from social obligation and true honour’ enjoyed by an unknown number, who are not ever really desiring to be known.

    That is the Apex.

    Am I splitting hairs here?

    When you considder how those in non Anex-1 nations now live, and their poor, I might agree you are hovering much closer to the Apex than they, but IMO still no banana.

    No disrespect intended,
    I hope you do hear that?

    I like the interview.

  27. Martin Lack Says:

    Thanks for that response, Kathy.

    As I have said on my blog, it seems reasonable to assume that, as a maximum, a post-Carbon and post-Industrial world will not be able to support more than a pre-Carbon, pre-Industrial world did. Therefore, I guess I should not be surprised at the disputation of the numbers put forward by Attenborough: I think he may well have been trying not to be too alarming…

    Therefore, since the greater the overshoot the greater the derogation of ecological carrying capacity (William Ophuls – see link below), I should not actually be surprised that you dispute what Attenborough said in the video.,ecological_scarcity.html

  28. BenjaminTheDonkey Says:

    Michael Doliner says: This is such a disappointing talk. It circled around the really important fact that nothing we can now do will make any difference. We have to live sustainably not because we think it will do any good, for it won’t, but because living properly is a gesture. We are like the defenders of the Alamo but instead of fighting to the end in a lost cause we have to do the reverse–stop fighting in a lost cause. The whole situation is almost too tragic for words. The best we humans can now do is make this gesture of piety.

    We’re not going to bow out with grace;
    Instead, the last humans will face
    The most depraved, base,
    Brutal, horrible place
    In the history of the human race.

  29. dairymandave Says:

    U; maybe this is a different way of saying the same thing, but as I see it, all life forms need energy to function and energy has always been very hard to acquire; it has always been diffuse. So the selection process selected for the organisms with the highest EROEI because every organism with an EROEI of less than 1 died early and didn’t reproduce. If we now lived in a world of scarce energy, we would not even be having this discussion; everyone would be spending most of the day doing the primary business of the day: getting some more energy. Farmers are now doing this for the other 99% of the population as they play with their smartphones and computers and look for something meaningful to do or talk about.

    Life has been around for 4 billion years and 99.99999% of that time there wasn’t abundant energy. Our “flash in the pan” era is not normal life on earth.

  30. martha borzoni Says:

    I am bothered by the talk of people who are attracted to apocalyptic info…I fear I am one of them..on a cyclic pattern of trying to find peace within myself,then being angry at our folly,then worrying for my grandchildren and thinking about how to help them,then working on plans for my gardens,water harvesting,how to build a rocket stove,etc. to make life easier when things get bad..whether or not to arm myself,then back to realizing I need to develope spiritually so I can be helpful and somewhat at peace.Or am I a sicko who wants the end to come? I DO want something big to happen that will maybe stop the “growth” in the nick of time…a miracle….
    How to deal with this….I’ll be a tad better when spring allows me to get happy in my gardens and work off some tension.I am definitely angry at this point and feel stuck on the grieving cycle…anyone?

  31. rag Says:

    First time posting after 2 years lurking in the shadows…
    I don’t doubt that David Attenborough is a thoroughly decent, sincere guy, but he is a) a naturalist; b) a LONG term employee of the BBC. Therefore not an independent expert on population carrying capacity.

  32. ulvfugl Says:

    @ dmd

    I think you’re talking about something very different really.

    This is about the principle or law in physics, concerning thermodynamics.
    That came out of people studying the way that heat moved, when they were building the early steam engines, and trying to figure out how to make them efficient to do work. So they wanted to measure how heat flowed, and what happened to it.

    So they came up with this concept of entropy. Then other people worked on that idea and applied it to the whole Universe. The result is the Laws of Thermodynamics.

    Physicists have been very happy with all that. Biologists never took much notice. So what this Swenson guy has done, is extend those laws, and say that ordered systems create entropy more effectively ( if that’s the right language, I’m new to this ) than disordered systems. It doesn’t matter whether the ordered systems are alive or not, that’s irrelevant. Galaxies do it better than empty space.

    Just so happens that in the case of Earth, the more ordered systems tend to be the living ones, and that evolution has produced ever more complex ordered systems, all the way from termite colonies, to rain forests, to human cities.

  33. Martin Lack Says:

    @OzMan – I happen to know that Guy is rather busy for a few days so, I hope he will forgive me for answering on his behalf (and correct me if necessary). I believe the phrase “Apex of Empire” to be intended to convey the unsustainable nature of Tuscon AZ as a collection of human beings living in an environment that cannot support them. The “Apex of Empire” is thus a label that can be applied to anyone not living in a sustainable fashion; and is the reason behind the name of the book. I am quite certain that Guy would not want people to think he was just referring to the fact that he may have walked away from a high-salary low-stress job at the University.

  34. B9K9 Says:

    @ Michael Doliner “We are like the defenders of the Alamo but instead of fighting to the end in a lost cause we have to do the reverse–stop fighting in a lost cause. The whole situation is almost too tragic for words. The best we humans can now do is make this gesture of piety.”

    There are essentially two options available for those who have reached enlightenment: the path you describe above, or, my preferred approach:

    It’s quite obvious that while Guy talks a good game about letting go, he still possesses some remaining vestiges. I would posit that Guy and other CC scientists will truly be free when they decide to re-enter the world-of-pay ie their Major Kong moment. Specifically, as experts in the service of the DoD and other TLAs.

    Take another look at that list Guy posted. Now, consider the potential outcomes for both offensive & defensive weaknesses & advantages from a military standpoint. It doesn’t matter if NTE is 10, 50 or 100 years away – the goal is to ‘win’ in the interim. And by winning, let me assure you every one of those contingencies are presently being evaluated within the context of conflict.

    As Hiram Maxim and countless others have discovered, if people are going to pursue killing each other regardless of what you personally do, then why not profit? To summarize, you can choose the Alamo path or the Kong alternative. Either way, you’re not going to be around to remember (nor is anyone else), so it’s immaterial what you do.

  35. ulvfugl Says:

    @ dmd

    You’re looking at it from the point of view of organisms, or humans, wanting to get energy to survive.

    The perspective I’m talking about is not like that at all. It’s more like saying that gravity pulls stuff. It’s much more basic. Gravity doesn’t care whether the stuff it pulls is alive or dead or where it is or what it is. It just does it. Nothing we can do about that.

    In this case, it’s not gravity, it’s entropy, which is quite a hard concept to understand until you get familiar with it. Also ectropy, and extropy.

  36. wildwoman Says:

    martha, perhaps you are in the bargaining stage.

    I think that is where I’m going, so maybe I’m projecting, but hear me out. You want something big to happen. So do I.

    The list of feedbacks grows longer. If something (like a revolution) were to happen this year or next, could it stop NTE? If enough people monkeywrenched the system, ground “progress” to a halt, and gave us some time to shut down the nuclear reactors, could it stop NTE?

    One year or two, that’s what I think we’ve got to use, and I mean big bad seriously “fucking shit up” (as the Marines put it).

    Yeah, I know, not likely, but what if?

  37. Speak Softly Says:

    “Energy is Eternal Delight”

    ~William Blake~

    Life appears to be nothing but a blob of energy chasing it’s own tail, the Ouroboros.

    It’s always been, always is, and always will be, all at Once.

    One is the loneliest number, so this ‘Eternal Delight’ has to pretend to be different to Itself and play hide and seek through endless iterations of Time and Space and unnamed dimensions, knowing deep down It is utterly Alone, despite the self contrived diversion of ‘Eternal Delight’.

    The ‘delight’ knows no bounds, and hence can take any Form. Not content just with the ‘positive’ forms of the word ‘delight’, It often appears to embrace an eternal no-holds barred voyeurism which can often look like sadism and masochism, which It manifests as just another Form of Eternal Delight.

    There is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ to It.

    ‘Morality’ has no Place in the Scheme of Things.

    Chasing It’s tail and remaining in Motion is the Soul purpose of Energy.

    I read someone who said, “There is no opposite [to entropy] as entropy is just a measure of disorder, of chaos..”

    Silly Wizard, there is most certainly an opposite to entropy, it’s the other half of Eternal Delight.

    Just because no one coined a catchy term for it doesn’t mean it doesn’t Exist.

    Everything ‘outside’ Nothing is perfectly balanced by a counter part, it takes two to Tango.

  38. BenjaminTheDonkey Says:

    Are we now at the end of our rope?
    Is there really no hope? Nope.
    Perhaps we’ll still scope
    Out some way to cope?
    Um…sorry, Charlie, no soap.

  39. ulvfugl Says:

    @ Speak Softly

    Yeah… I’ve been thinking along much the same, somewhat senseless, lines…

    But what’s so amazing, there’s some energy, in the form of alternating waves of pressure and less pressure in air, sound. And they hit a patch, a blob, of water, or sand on a steel sheet, or myriad other materials. And suddenly, from nowhere, we have patterns and forms, and symmetry and beauty…

    It, whatever ‘it’ is, can’t help doing this, it’s innately creative, order is inherent in the disorder.

  40. Kathy C Says:

    Michael D The best we humans can now do is make this gesture of piety.
    Someone a while back posted what had been said to them by someone else – so I hope I get this right, but at least I am sure the sentiment is right.

    The person in question was asked why they recycle when recycling is so futile – they said “because if I didn’t I would be a person who doesn’t recycle”

    Which seems to me to be what you are saying. Whatever we do now we do because of how we feel about ourselves. I have often said that my one hope is that when I die, at the moment of death (because I think that is the last moment I will have), at that moment I hope I don’t look back and find that I am ashamed of myself. Ashamed perhaps for some of what I have done, but not of the whole of who I am. My last thought I hope will be “not too bad”.

    But as Benjamin notes, that may be quite difficult.

  41. BenjaminTheDonkey Says:

    Of course, the denier view stinks:
    Do the math, using Google and links;
    Despite all down-dumbing,
    The end’s surely coming,
    No matter what anyone thinks.

  42. ulvfugl Says:

    Me, still pondering the strange relationship between inanimate forms that emerge from the laws of physics, and animate forms that have biological life.
    This damn thing could be in a biology or medical text book as a microscope photograph of a seed, pollen grain, fungal spore, oceanic plankton or some other structure of organic origin. It’s actually the detonation of a nuclear bomb.

    “And, of course, that is what all of this is – all of this: the one song, ever changing, ever reincarnated, that speaks somehow from and to and for that which is ineffable within us and without us, that is both prayer and deliverance, folly and wisdom, that inspires us to dance or smile or simply to go on, senselessly, incomprehensibly, beatifically, in the face of mortality and the truth that our lives are more ill-writ, ill-rhymed and fleeting than any song, except perhaps those songs – that song, endlesly reincarnated – born of that truth, be it the moon and June of that truth, or the wordless blue moan, or the rotgut or the elegant poetry of it. That nameless black-hulled ship of Ulysses, that long black train, that Terraplane, that mystery train, that Rocket ’88’, that Buick 6 – same journey, same miracle, same end and endlessness.”

    — Nick Tosches, Where Dead Voices Gather

  43. Michael Irving Says:

    I was just reading an article from “Nation of Change” regarding GMOs in our vitamin supplement supply. The article pointed out that most vitamin C for example is extracted from corn and, since 85-90% of our corn is from Monsanto produced genetically modified seed, most of our vitamin C supply contains GMO material. The article suggests that the same is true for most of the other supplement products.

    Now I guess I’m slow on the uptake, compared to most of you, but I only just realized that again this is a case of life imitating art. In this case you movie fans will recognize that MONSANTO = CYBERDYNE SYSTEMS.

    On the climate front, we still have knee deep snow here and it is snowing again today, however, the spring migrants are arriving early again this year, and the first chipmunk of the year is just having a wonderful time running around almost a month early in temperatures about 10°F warmer than the historical norm.

    Michael Irving

  44. Kathy C Says:

    Martha “How to deal with this….I’ll be a tad better when spring allows me to get happy in my gardens and work off some tension.I am definitely angry at this point and feel stuck on the grieving cycle…anyone?”

    Try this – everyone dies, species go extinct, suns die one way or another. None of this is something that wouldn’t happen sometime. Its just that it is going to happen sooner rather than later. The sooner it happens the less people who will die overall and in an untimely manner. If death is bad, extinction at least eliminates that.

    Weird way to get OK about things. Maybe but it is true. If we all died today it would be perhaps 350,000 less people than if we all died tomorrow.

  45. BC Nurse Prof Says:

    Ah HA!

    “if ordered flow produces entropy faster than disordered flow (as required by the balance equation of the second law), and if the world acts to minimize potentials at the fastest rate given the constraints (the law of maximum entropy production), then the world can be expected to produce order whenever it gets the chance.”


    Now I get it!

    Good. Now I can withdraw and watch the entropy grow.
    I see everything differently now. I see the point of it all.

  46. Paul Chefurka Says:

    @BC Nurse Prof

    That’s quite the moment, isn’t it? That moment when the whole thing becomes clear. I know I’ll never be the same again.

    A lot of things burn up in that atomic flash of clarity – all the blame, the shame, the anger and outrage and resentment. In their place is – what? – wonder, awe, a tinge of fading sadness, and a feeling of privilege for being granted a glimpse behind the curtain.

  47. ulvfugl Says:

    @ BC Nurse Prof

    Yes. And, for example, if some new crack in the crust allows super heated steam to create a thermal vent thousands of feet down on the ocean floor, with very high water pressure, in complete darkness, spewing out highly toxic chemicals at temperatures deadly to life, somehow, living organisms will find it, and cluster, inches away from certain death. Bacterial mats form, starfish and shrimps and crabs and all kinds of weird things form a food chain… for as long as it lasts.

    Is this really so very different, in principle, to the scumbags at Exxon or BP sitting around their board table, and the Deep Water Horizon and Corexit and all the spin off industries that attach to petrochemicals ?

    Of course, you can look at the superficial level, they are trying to make money, or they are part of the capitalist machine, or they are a product of the industrial revolution, and so forth, and there’s truth in all those observations, but if you stand right back, and look from as far away as you can get from all this, energy arising in the Universe, creating order, dissipating energy, transforming into disorder, and so forth….

    That’s how I’m seeing it. I’m not completely certain if that’s accurate.
    If it is, what could we possibly do ? I was thinking about those flowforms. Does anybody know those ? They are sort of cascades that energise and aerate water, slowing down the flow. Quite beautiful, too.

    I mean, if we are smart enough to understand this entropy thingee, then ffs, let’s do something with it…

    Instead of a straight concrete channel at 45 deg that lets water rush downhill in a straight line, e.g. the stupid idea that most engineers install to get rid of excess water into drains, if you look at nature, at natural streams, they meander, they have pools, they bifurcate and wiggle about, they have mini water falls and eddies.

    Flowforms are a bit like that. Mimicing nature.

    So, seems to me, entropy is sort of attracted toward the quickest easiest route. The concrete channel. OK. Ban them. Law against straight concrete channels. Make it as unacceptable as incest. All human systems would have to be the equivalent of flowforms.

    Hahahahaha. That would probably work. The only problem would be finding anyone in any position of power or authority who could actually spell entropy or flowform… let alone understand what the words mean… sigh….

  48. BC Nurse Prof Says:

    Yes, it’s clear now, and yes, it explains Exxon board members thinking about how to “order” the next round of drilling or refining, or whatever.

    Yes, matter and energy inevitably take the quickest path to entropy. However, it seems to me that taking the path of the straight concrete spillway is NOT the quickest path to entropy. The quickest path is the one with the fractal “spreading out”, the one like the stream, the one that looks like one of those fractal diagrams, because that produces the most order, that decays to the most entropy.

    Did I get that right?

  49. ulvfugl Says:

    @ BC Nurse Prof

    Don’t know.

    The quickest way the balance, between inside and outside, is open the door.

    Let’s have Paul explain it !

  50. ulvfugl Says:

    Imagine any out of equilibrium system with multiple available pathways such as a heated cabin in the middle of snowy woods (Swenson & Turvey, 1991). In this case, the system will produce flows through the walls, the cracks under the windows and the door, and so on, so as to minimize the potential. What we all know intuitively (why we keep doors and windows closed in winter) is that whenever a constraint is removed so as to provide an opportunity for increased flow the system will reconfigure itself so as to allocate more flow to that pathway leaving what it cannot accommodate to the less efficient or slower pathways. In short, no matter how the system is arranged the pattern of flow produced will be the one that minimizes the potential at the fastest rate given the constraints. Once the idea is grasped, examples are easy to proliferate…

  51. dairymandave Says:

    U: are you familiar with this?

  52. BC Nurse Prof Says:

    I’m not sure here. In that exerpt he’s talking about the constraints. Paul, can you weigh in here?

  53. Paul Chefurka Says:

    OK, here’s the way I understand it.

    The “fastest pathway” takes into account both the number of pathways available, and their individual and aggregate capacity. The “number of pathways available” is where the fractal insight come in. The “individual capacity” aspect is where the size of the open door comes into play. Thermodynamics doesn’t care if you punch a hundred holes in the wall, or open a door that has the same area as those hundred holes. Both number and size count.

    So from a human point of view, the best way to maximize entropy production is to maximize both the number and the individual size of the pathways. As in, population and per-capita energy use. It comes back to the I=PAT equation: P is population, “AT” is per-capita energy use, and out pops I, which is … entropy.

    The constraints Swenson is talking about would be things like how fast can we drill for oil or mine coal, how many people are able to work in entropy-maximizing industries, how fast can we move the waste products out of the way, etc. None of those are infinite, so they all act to constrain the entropy-production process. The primary funtion of human intelligence is to overcome those constraints wherever they are detected.

    (speculation)I think the reason human birth rates are heading down now is connected to this. We have (through our intelligence) created technology that is so much better at maximizing entropy than people are, that the system doesn’t need as many people any more. The ones it needs are not entropy producers (miners, farmers etc.) but entropy production managers – machine designers and controllers. Having too many people gets in the way, so the system has slowed down the birth rate. This is why birth rates have gone down faster in industrialized countries. (/speculation)

  54. BC Nurse Prof Says:

    Thanks, Paul. That’s more clear.

    Now, the news of the day: Ice behaviour in the Arctic…

  55. ulvfugl Says:

    So, if you want a ship to sink quickly, shoot as many holes into the hull as fast as possible… and that’s what we are doing ?

  56. Paul Chefurka Says:

    Boom, boom, boom. Yup. And to get the job done with a minimum of manpower, design a machine gun. Or an automatic cannon…

  57. Paul Chefurka Says:

    This got me thinking about laminar flow and its relationship to the “hundred holes” example. Here’s a thought experiment:

    Consider two closed systems (A and B), each one being a box divided in half by an insulated wall. In the dividing wall of system A you punch a million tiny holes, each with an area of 1 mm^2. In the wall of system B you make a single hole with the same total area as those thousand timy holes, or 1 m^2. System B with the big hole will achieve equilibrium faster than system A with the million tiny holes. This is because the heat flow through the tiny holes is disordered by air turbulence. The flow through the big hole is orderly, smooth and fast.

    This shows again how ordered systems maximize their entropy faster than disordered ones.

    This is why we developed hierarchies in our culture – to create more order within the system, and increase its rate of entropy production.

  58. Paul Chefurka Says:

    Let me try that again, I missed a beat:

    Consider two closed systems (A and B), each one being a box divided in half by an insulated wall. In each, one compartment is heated to a starting temperature of 100 degrees C, while the other starts at 0C.

    In the dividing wall of system A you punch a million tiny holes, each with an area of 1 mm^2. In the wall of system B you make a single hole with the same total area as those million tiny holes, or 1 m^2

    System B with the big hole will achieve equilibrium (i.e. both compartments are at 50C) faster than system A with the million tiny holes. This is because the heat flow through the tiny holes is disordered by air turbulence. The flow through the big hole is orderly, smooth and fast.

  59. BC Nurse Prof Says:

    Thanks, Paul, I get the idea of constraints and the advantages of different paths now. I’m sure I’ll have more questions, but that at least answers that one.

    Now, here is more commentary on the Beaufort Breakup of February 2013:

  60. dairymandave Says:

    “We’re killing the planet”. Here’s a good picture of that.

    After watching the video, NTE can’t be soon enough.

  61. Speak Softly Says:

    Where There’s No Government

    In Dmitry Orlov’s latest excerpt from his up coming book, he says:

    “Modern societies rely on the government to defend property rights, enforce contracts and regulate commerce. As the economy expands, so do the functions of government, along with its bureaucratic structures, laws, rules and procedures and—what expands fastest of all—its cost.

    All of these official arrangements show an accretion of complexity over time.

    Each time a new problem needs to be solved, something is added to the structure, but nothing is ever taken away, because previous arrangements are often grandfathered in, and because simplifying a complex arrangement is always more difficult and expensive than complicating it further….

    I like that last sentence, “because simplifying a complex arrangement is always more difficult and expensive than complicating it further…”

    This is a great feature of the human complexity klusterphuck. It’s always easier to complexify, it’s the path of least bureaucratic resistance, which in complex societies, is the only place decision making counts, not with ‘the people’ at the grassroots level.

    Complexity has a self limiting quality and this might be one reason why. It’s less trouble in the grand view to add complexity than it is to simplify large established system. Increasing complexity literally has a better EROEI and simplicity. Slap another coat of paint on rather than strip it down to bare metal a paint it right. Human Nature’s of way baking collapse into it’s complexity cake.

    From a guy who knew, I Got Hoes

  62. Tom Says:

    (think Colombo)
    ehhhhh, lemme get dis straight: if everything is affected by this entropy production (state of dissolution), why is the timeline millions of eons in some cases while instantaneous in others (ie. cold universe vs striking a match) – why doesn’t the universe just go from bang to cold singular atoms in the blink of an eye? Is there some intent somewhere hidden in the equations, some (as you brought up) turbulence or resistance to entropy innate in everything created? If so, why? i thought the “goal” was to equilibrium (everything cold and dark in the end) as quickly as possible, so why does the universe choose to draw it out? Or is it just OUR universe, with other examples being different?
    How about black holes? What are they doing and what eats them?

  63. Tom Says:

    Oh look, the garbage gyres of humanity:

    Scientists recently took a close look at this northern garbage continent, and were shocked; but now we find out is has an evil twin.

    Scientists will now go to the even larger southern garbage continent next, Garbage Gyre II, where they have been afraid to look up until now:

    “We’re afraid at what we’re going to find in the South Gyre, but we’ve got to go there,” said Tony Haymet, director of the Scripps Institution.

    Only humans are to blame for ocean debris, Goldstein said. In a blog entry posted a day before the science ship arrived in Newport, Ore., she wrote the research showed her the consequences of humanity’s footprint on nature.

    “Seeing that influence just floating out here in the middle of nowhere makes our power painfully obvious, and the consequences of the industrial age plain,” she wrote. “It’s not a pretty sight.”

    The use of the phrase “the consequences of humanity’s footprint on nature” shows the continuing ignorance and erroneous duality in the mind of far too many people.

    It is as if they think nature is some separate entity we can do things to without consequence to us, instead of the truth that we are nature, so to the degree that we harm “nature” is the degree to which we harm our species.

  64. patrick Says:

    Do you have a blog or is there anyway I can email you directly? I’m interested in your perspective and how you make it work for you. I’m only 26 so this whole reckoning is quite the load for me to carry. I’m trying to hear as many people’s perspectives and stories as I can to help me decide how I might live my life as well as possible. I’m both overly analytical and lazy by nature so it would be all too easy for me to wallow in this until the end without ever doing anything for myself outside of getting intellectual quick fixes or insight porn as i’ve seen it described.

  65. Paul Chefurka Says:

    Gee Tom, I hope I’m not starting to look like a teleological physicist or sumfin’.

    Black holes? Dunno.

    Why not all at once? Well, speed of light could be a factor, as could the inherent clumpiness or turbulence instilled in matter/energy by the Big Boom. When you have clumpiness you get organized sub-systems like stars and planets, that take a while to do their thing. Issues like the thermal conductivity of planets come into play, or the length of time it takes large assemblies of matter like stars to finish turning some portion of matter into energy.

    The big question is what caused the raw energy of the Big Boom to turn into quarks, electrons, protons, neutrons, leptons, pi-mesons etc. Why did it become matter? Why did the energy not not just stay as gamma rays? Quien sabe? We’re just stuck with the consequences.

  66. Martin Lack Says:

    Paul Chefurka: I have an elderly aunt in Australia who is a retired microbiologist, who made an interesting comment regarding the Maximum Power Principle, which was this: “Some species of bacteria can swim but that hardly classes as useful work. And with humans our basal metabolism is about maintaining our bodies in life and this cannot be classified as useful work.” Would you care to respond to that criticism?

  67. Kathy C Says:

    U “It’s almost like ‘It is written in the stars that you earthlings are doomed, whatever you do, because whatever you do, will result in your destruction’….. I mean, why should that be so ? It’s kinda crazy… laugh ? cry ? Vanity of vanities, all is vanity…”

    Should, what does should have to do with it it. Should implies a should-er just as meaning implies a meaner. If that is what it is that is what it is. We can and will each still act as though our acting matters, in big or small matters because that is how we are programmed. We will seek meaning in big and small things (does that sound mean a rattler is near is an example of the small). That is how we are programmed. There is no should-er, no meaner, things just as they are and however they are. so it goes….

  68. OzMan Says:

    Martin Lack

    Thanks for your kind reply, clarification. I see now how my interpretation of the implication that Tuscon, Arizona, is an example of Empire’s apex, and the unsustainability of same is Guy’s main point.

    I still like the idea of Base Camp of Empire, or Camp 1. But my argument can still run as there is all that hidden privelage of the uber-elite whose needs and whims are met anywhere they wish to reside, or sit for an hour or two. That counld still conceivably be the Apex, for how much of Empire infrastrcture, think Mars Rovers, Space Shuttles, and the deaths of participants in the failures are all for that apex group to keep their hegemony, in secret.
    I mean, even as it is only a work of popular fiction, ut run again the movie “Eyes Wide Shut”, (dir: Stanley Kubrick), and you have a metaphore for (shut eyes) for the educated classes not seeing what is in front of them.

    I was for a long time perplexed by the apparent ease at which the main female prostitute in the film gives her life for that of Tom Cruises character, Dr. William Harford. Why would she do that?

    Reading the brilliant recent book ‘The First 5 000 Years of Debt’, by (I think anthropologist…?) David Graeber, I feel I can see why she does.
    MO she has been so degraded as a pawn of sex slave uber-traders, but not so she is a crack whore, still very young and beautiful and high class, but nevertheless, without dignity, and trated as sex property.
    In that situation, the fact that the Doctor saved her life,earlier, and needed to be redeemed, she was reclaiming her honour, and dignity by giving her life for his.

    I reveer the film even more now, and the womans act of sacrifice, which perhaps was the most human experience of hnour she had encountered in her short life.

    Just sayin…

  69. Paul Chefurka Says:


    “Some species of bacteria can swim but that hardly classes as useful work. And with humans our basal metabolism is about maintaining our bodies in life and this cannot be classified as useful work.”

    One would have to ask the bacterium if it felt that swimming was useful, or the person at rest if they felt that staying alive was useful. I think in both cases the answer would be a resounding “Yes!” I think your aunt has a rather myopic inner definition of utility.

  70. ulvfugl Says:

    @ Paul, Martin Lack’s Aunt

    Yes, indeed. The ability to move, even a few millimetres, intentionally, up a glucose gradient ( as Stuart Kaufmann says on the NTE forum ), is a fantastic advance over being static and at the mercy of random forces.

    Essentially, that’s the beginning of life. It means one blob of stuff can move over to meet another blob of stuff, to mate, to to devour it, or lots of blobs can join up together into a bigger blob. That’s all very useful for their survival from their perspective.

    @ Kathy C.

    Okay, edit. Replace, ‘Why should that be so ?’ which is slightly old fashioned, with ‘Why is that ?’ which is more modern, and makes not the slightest difference to my intended meaning.

  71. ulvfugl Says:

    Also, the second point, keeping our bodies basal metabolism functioning. That’s got to be ‘useful work’ too, if it essential to our continued existence.

  72. ulvfugl Says:

    Re the holes, Is there a formal definition of order in this kind of context ? I have not seen one anywhere yet.

  73. ulvfugl Says:

    The Pentagon sent a US veteran of the “dirty wars” in Central America to oversee sectarian police commando units in Iraq that set up secret detention and torture centres to get information from insurgents. These units conducted some of the worst acts of torture during the US occupation and accelerated the country’s descent into full-scale civil war.

  74. Paul Chefurka Says:

    Regarding basal metabolism – think of all the work that has to be done to keep the “resting” body functioning. Blood must be pumped by the heart; food digested and moved through the gut; muscles moved to breathe; and the brain must be kept functioning at all times, requiring 20% of all energy expended at rest. All that motion and energy transformation is “work”.

  75. ulvfugl Says:

    Hahaha, love this line I just came across :

    …… the most general interpretation of entropy is as a measure of our uncertainty about a system

    That sums up so much. 😉

  76. ulvfugl Says:

    @ Tom

    (think Colombo)…etc

    Can’t answer any of that, but neither can anyone else…

    Egan and Lineweaver’s new value for the entropy of the universe is still a billionth of a billionth the maximum possible entropy that researchers have estimated. Nonetheless, the new value “indicates that that the universe is a bit closer to the heat death than previously computed,” comments theorist Paul Davies of Arizona State University in Tempe.

    Not everyone agrees that the higher entropy contributed by supermassive black holes puts the universe closer to heat death. Theorist Ned Wright of the University of California, Los Angeles says that because the extra entropy is locked inside the black holes, the rest of the universe should have lower entropy and be further away from heat death.

    The new entropy calculation also highlights a cosmic puzzle, Carroll says. The entropy was relatively small in the early universe (1088), bigger now (10104), but still falls far short of the maximum (10122). No known physical principle can explain why the cosmic entropy is so low. But it’s a good thing because the low value “is responsible for everything we experience about the [unidirectional] flow of time — breaking eggs, growing older and dying, remembering the past but not the future,” notes Carroll. “The universe is incredibly more orderly than it has any right to be. Egan and Lineweaver have shown that it’s just a bit more disorderly than we thought.”

  77. Tony Weddle Says:

    Thanks, Guy. I think that there have been a couple of others, but it’s good that you acknowledge that you’ve been wrong. You could never be a politician! 🙂

    I’ve said before, though, that no-one can predict the future with accuracy. Though it’s inconceivable that our situation can improve, especially whilst we go on denying that there is anything critically wrong, I don’t think it’s inconceivable that the models used to “predict” extinction are wrong. Consequently, for those who think that NTE provides a reason for giving up, it’s just possible that NTE will not happen, at least not for humans.

  78. Gail Says:

    You may already know Guy, but I was reading an interesting article about the strategy of targeting Keystone XL, clicked on a link in comments and there was the “Two Sides of the Fossil Fuels Coin” video!

  79. Speak Softly Says:

    Robert Rapier is a moron and a shill for the oil industry masquerading as a concerned citizen, a ‘real’ environmentalist talking ‘hard’ numbers about energy. He is a flunky from The Oil Drum. A washout even there.

    Bill McKibben has embarrassed himself enough with the number thing and needs to fess up, in public, about how badly we as a species have already shot by 350ppm without even blowing it a wet kiss.

    Choosing between them is a no win, but at least McKibben has a conscience of sorts, Rapier has none. He wants to argue about how many geologist can dance on the top of a 55 gallon barrel of Crude.

    It’s like the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. Neither is presenting the issue of climate collapse in an honest fashion, both think they are the Doyen of rational realism, neither is.

    When it all turns to ashes in their mouths as the climate tips over the edge into a point of no return, they will be standing on the rumble blaming each other like kids on the playground.

    Both are hidden an ugly truth which NBL trying to put forth.

    Both are engaged in propaganda for their two respective loser view points.

    The Owners are laughing their asses off at the spectacle of the Keystone Environmental ‘debate’.

  80. Anthony Says:

    Speak Softly: what you said!

    Paul U wrote:

    “(speculation)I think the reason human birth rates are heading down now is connected to this. We have (through our intelligence) created technology that is so much better at maximizing entropy than people are, that the system doesn’t need as many people any more. The ones it needs are not entropy producers (miners, farmers etc.) but entropy production managers – machine designers and controllers. Having too many people gets in the way, so the system has slowed down the birth rate. This is why birth rates have gone down faster in industrialized countries. (/speculation)”

    To use Swenson’s cabin analogy perhaps birth rate is slowing as the potential inside and outside the cabin reaches equilibrium.

    On a flat planet with infinite energy sources to be exploited birth rate would theoretically increase (volume to surface area considerations aside) Perhaps the only biggest hole left in the cabin wall is increasing efficiency (managers) as there aren’t enough resources left to maintain the true producers (farmers, miners, fishermen etc. . .). Additionally, there are more than enough consumers to direct the remaining and declining energy through. . . .so can slow down their replacement rate.

    We are systematically reducing complexity as well as we channel more and more energy through humans. It could be theorized that declining birth rate is a signal that the planet has dipped below a complexity threshold and therefore the rate of entropy through humans is slowing.

  81. Bluebird Says:

    @ Guy:

    Someone said to me tonight, “Well, I don’t know how you determine when we’ve reached the tipping point.” I simply replied that there are already ten positive feedback loops in play – nine of which are irreversible – and that some scientists believe we’ve already reached the tipping point. (I’m sure the matter is far more complex than that.)

    Is there one major tipping point that is determined by our having reached a number of lesser tipping points? How do you view this whole matter? And how many other scientists see the planet’s present tipping-point situation the way you do? Thank you.

  82. dairymandave Says:

    This person does, David Wasdell: (I live 2 time zones ahead of Guy)

  83. dairymandave Says:

    Spreading the Horror is featured at Doomstead Diner.

  84. Martin Lack Says:

    @Paul C and ulvfugl

    I see no legitimate reason to be rude about my aunt. She was offering an opinion (probably not that well considered). For the record, I happen to agree with both you – both movement and metabolism are useful. In fact, what work done would not be useful? So, then, does competitive advantage go to the organism that does the most work; or the one that works most efficiently? Since the two things are not the same, which is it?

  85. dairymandave Says:

    Martin; Both.

  86. dairymandave Says:

    Watching experts soberly discussing what they see and its implications is quite frankly frightening.

    Sorry to hog the airwaves while you were sleeping.

  87. Kathy C Says:

    Speaksoftly “He wants to argue about how many geologist can dance on the top of a 55 gallon barrel of Crude.”

    How nice to have a good laugh. It took me a bit to realize what was up with the Oil Drum. But when a comment I made about climate change was banned because the subject of the post was not about climate change I finally got it. Trouble with the reasoning, was that the post clearly mentioned climate change in a dismissive way…..Bet if I had agreed with her my comment wouldn’t have been deleted.

  88. ulvfugl Says:

    @ Martin L.

    Was there any rudeness ?

    I think it’s not so much that movement and metabolism are useful, but in their absence, at the microscopic level, there’d have been no life, no evolution. So they are more than useful, they are essential. They are difference between a living thing and a non-living thing.

    I’m not sure what you mean by competitive advantage. I think the organism only has to do the work required to survive and to reproduce.

    Organisms will compete or cooperate or both, as part of the larger system, life evolving on Earth

  89. Kathy C Says:

    U “Okay, edit. Replace, ‘Why should that be so ?’ which is slightly old fashioned, with ‘Why is that ?’ which is more modern, and makes not the slightest difference to my intended meaning.”

    As my father used to quote me “Their’s is not to reason why, their’s is but to do and die”. Funny thing to say to a little kid. Perhaps that is why death has never bothered me? I heard it as “There is not a reason why….” I think in the end that poem about the Light Brigade works as an analogy for human life, for there is no reason for our existence and the one thing we have to do once born is die.

    As for actual explanations of why any particular law of the universe is in place, the only explanation that can be found is another law. Its laws all the way down. Or turtles – take your pick

    “Turtles all the way down” is a jocular expression of the infinite regress problem in cosmology posed by the “unmoved mover” paradox. The phrase was popularized by Stephen Hawking in 1988. The “turtle” metaphor in the anecdote represents a popular notion of a “primitive cosmological myth”, namely the flat earth supported on the back of a World Turtle. per wiki

    The impersonality of it all, the futility, the vanity….don’t let it get you down.

    Here is what Mochizuki said this morning, driven from Japan by the radiation, trying to get out the real news about Fukushima to a world where people have forgotten, moved on…
    The glasses shop staff didn’t speak English at all. None of them even understood the most basic words such as today or tomorrow or better.
    The other staff was fluent in English the day before the day.

    Being fretted (It was actually my fault, I should study Romanian more), I had a cup of coffee at Mc Donald’s. I needed to use their wifi. and then, I left my glasses on the table, which I had fixed at the shop.

    I noticed it before going too far.
    Soon as I came back, 2 of the customers who were having hamburgers on my right side and left side waved hands to me and said the glasses were picked by the shop staff and it was safely kept behind the casher. They politely escorted me and gave me the glasses.
    I was so happy by their civilized goodwill.

    I think this is what the happiness is.

    When you never expect it, when you even forget the presence, it suddenly comes to you. After all, we are just tumbled on the hand of god or universe or perfect randomness or whatsoever. To keep the hope even when you are stuck in a ditch, you must believe in this god or universe or perfect randomness or whatsoever. Some people call it faith.

    There’s the other kind of happiness, which is more artificial.
    Drinking alcohol or taking something might make you feel happy. In the same way, posh cars, new couch, flashy clothes, they might make you feel happy

    for one day.

    After the effect bought by money, you just feel empty like debt.

    There it is, a little happiness from humans being nice. Forget your quanta, forget entropy, the truth is that we have the ability to be happy in little ordinary things. Grab some while we can.

  90. ulvfugl Says:

    @ Kathy C.

    Forget your quanta, forget entropy, the truth is that we have the ability to be happy in little ordinary things. Grab some while we can.

    I am happy. Quanta are the ordinary things.

  91. Paul Chefurka Says:


    Sorry, I didn’t intend to be rude to your aunt, but I was a little surprised that a microbiologist could hold such an apparently anthropocentric view of utility. “Useful work” in this sense means something more like, “Work that changes the state of the system” as opposed to “useful in the view of the human observer”.

  92. Paul Chefurka Says:

    Kathy, we can do both – we can be interested in entropy and grab a bite of happiness on the way by. For some of us, comprehending a deeper truth doesn’t preclude being happy in the world – it can even enhance it.

  93. Tom Says:

    Paul, ulvfugl: thanks for the reply. i’m not trying to put anyone on the spot by asking unanswerable questions. i’m trying to get at the “intention” of the universe (remember: “What the fuck is the point?”) through its laws and actions, but it appears that there are no answers or that the way it is IS the answer (as i think Kathy is saying). This is a really interesting development nonetheless and i appreciate the discussion.

    Bluebird: This is just my opinion, so you can skip it if you wish. Perhaps all the tipping points, being as they interact and effect one another, add up to (or “are”) the big tipping point (like Arctic ice sheet loss and the potential methane bomb from the melting permafrost/tundra/peat). In other words we can’t go back on any of them now that they’ve been breeched and it’s only going to get worse (from our perspective) in the coming near future due to the accelerating pace of (unwanted) climate change (including sink holes, volcanic action, etc). Just sayin’.

  94. ulvfugl Says:

    @ Paul C., Kathy C.,

    Kathy C.’s position today seems to be a recommendation for ignorance, we wouldn’t know anything about radioactivity or CO2 or any of the stuff she reminds of every day, if it wasn’t for the enquiring minds of scientists… but when the enquiring minds of scientists touch on quantum theory or entropy or anything that disturbs her world view, then ‘it’s turtles all the way down’… but that’s fine by me too, I’m happy to grab some happiness by counting the turtles…

    And amazingly enough, it turns out, way, way down, there’s the grandaddy turtle, the primaeval foundational original Turtle of Turtles, without whom there could not be any stack of turtles…. so, if I had followed Kathy C.s defeatist advice, that is a discovery that would never have been made !

    The laws of thermodynamics are special laws that sit above the ordinary laws of nature as laws about laws or laws upon which the other laws depend (Swenson & Turvey, 1991). It can be successfully shown that without the first and second laws, which express symmetry properties of the world, there could be no other laws at all.

  95. Kathy C Says:

    metaphor for a tipping point

    1 min vid.

  96. Robin Datta Says:

    All “natural laws” or “principles” are inferences, derived from other inferences, derived from other inferences. They all rest on direct perception. Perception of light and dark, of colour, of shapes, from which is inferred the presence of objects. Perception of tactile sensations, from which is inferred the presence of objects (or phenomena, such as wind) that can be correlated with visual phenomena. Perception similarly in the other senses. It is quite another matter to perceive the Witness Itself: that the Witness is the witnessing and the witnessed.

  97. Kathy C Says:

    U, “primaeval foundational original Turtle of Turtles, without whom there could not be any stack of turtles…. ”

    In positing that are you not making an argument for ignorance yourself, for if you posit a foundational Turtle you have not answered the question of what that turtle sits on or if it sits on no Turtle, or on nothing why is that?

    I think the law of infinite regression holds.

  98. dairymandave Says:

    If we can define energy, we have the answer. That’s what everything is made of and it doesn’t need to sit on anything. I say this because I expect we can’t define energy.