Is the global economy a Ponzi scheme?

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"Is the global economy a Ponzi scheme?"

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Yes, homo “sapiens” sapiens have constructed the grandest of Ponzi schemes, whereby current generations have figured out how to live off the wealth of future generations. Yes, we are all in essence Madoffs (many wittingly, most not) or at least his most credulous clients. What comes next will be the subject of a multipart series.

I had been planning to write something on this for a while when NYT columnist Tom Friedman interviewed me for “The Inflection Is Near?” which appears in today’s New York Times:

“We created a way of raising standards of living that we can’t possibly pass on to our children,” said Joe Romm, a physicist and climate expert who writes the indispensable blog climateprogress.org. We have been getting rich by depleting all our natural stocks — water, hydrocarbons, forests, rivers, fish and arable land — and not by generating renewable flows.

“You can get this burst of wealth that we have created from this rapacious behavior,” added Romm. “But it has to collapse, unless adults stand up and say, ‘This is a Ponzi scheme. We have not generated real wealth, and we are destroying a livable climate …’ Real wealth is something you can pass on in a way that others can enjoy.”

A few years ago I thought that aggressive action by governments around the world to push clean energy could spare the public dramatic lifestyle changes in the coming decades, but I have been convinced otherwise by

  • the failure of U.S. leadership [thank you George W. Bush and the conservative movement stagnation]
  • the remarkable shift in our understanding of climate science in the past two years (here, here, and here)
  • China’s decision to join the Ponzi scheme full throttle and emulate our rapaciousness (see here and here), and
  • a recent, brilliant talk I heard (a teaser for a future post).

The adults, in short, are not standing up. Sadly, most haven’t even taken the time to understand that they should (see “Most opinion leaders just don’t get global warming“).

And so every generation that comes after the Baby Boomers are poised to experience the dramatic changes in lifestyle that inevitably follow the collapse of any Ponzi scheme.

This global Ponzi scheme is not just a metaphor (see “The greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor”), but for me a central organizing narrative of how to think about the fix we have put ourselves in (see How Lincoln framed his picture-perfect Gettysburg Address, 4: Extended metaphor).

What exactly is a Ponzi scheme? Wikipedia has a good entry:

A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investment operation that pays returns to investors from their own money or money paid by subsequent investors rather than from profit. The term “Ponzi scheme” is used primarily in the United States , while other English-speaking countries do not distinguish colloquially between this scheme and pyramid schemes.

The Ponzi scheme usually offers abnormally high short-term returns in order to entice new investors. The perpetuation of the high returns that a Ponzi scheme advertises and pays requires an ever-increasing flow of money from investors in order to keep the scheme going.

In our case, investors (i.e. current generations) are paying themselves (i.e. you and me) by taking the nonrenewable resources and livable climate from future generations. To perpetuate the high returns the rich countries in particular have been achieving in recent decades, we have been taking an ever greater fraction of nonrenewable energy resources (especially hydrocarbons) and natural capital (fresh water, arable land, forests, fisheries), and, the most important nonrenewable natural capital of all — a livable climate.

The system is destined to collapse because the earnings, if any, are less than the payments.

See, for instance (“Hadley Center warns of catastrophic 5-7°C warming by 2100 on current emissions path” and “Normally staid International Energy Agency says oil will peak in 2020“).

Usually, the scheme is interrupted by legal authorities before it collapses because a Ponzi scheme is suspected or because the promoter is selling unregistered securities.

Yes, well, the authorities (i.e. world leaders, opinion makers, the cognoscenti) haven’t been doing much interrupting over the past two to three decades since, unlike a typical Ponzi scheme, they are heavily invested in the scheme and addicted to the returns!

As more investors become involved, the likelihood of the scheme coming to the attention of authorities increases.

Well now I do think that the scheme has come to the attention of many of “the authorities,” at least to many leaders around the world and to progressive ones here at home. Conservative authorities simply have too much invested in the status quo (see here and here).

Knowingly entering a Ponzi scheme, even at the last round of the scheme, can be rational in the economic sense if a government will likely bail out those participating in the Ponzi scheme.

But Friedman quotes Glenn Prickett, senior vice president at Conservation International, explaining, “Mother Nature doesn’t do bailouts.”

We aren’t all Madoffs in the sense of people who have knowingly created a fraudulent Ponzi scheme for humanity. But given all of the warnings from scientists and international governments over the past quarter-century (most recently two years ago with “Absolute MUST Read IPCC Report: Debate over, further delay fatal, action not costly“) — it has gotten harder and harder for any of us to pretend that we are innocent victims, that we aren’t just hoping we can maintain our own personal wealth and well-being for a few more decades before the day of reckoning.

But it is interesting to see just how clever Madoff was:

Madoff’s scheme was typical of a Ponzi in its structure, but differed in its pace and marketing. Rather than offer (suspiciously) high returns to all comers, Madoff offered modest, but steady returns to an exclusive clientele, produced in both up and down markets. Although the investment method was marketed as a “too complicated for outsiders to understand” … the true secret to Madoff’s success was his lifetime involvement with non-profit charities, and the tax law knowledge he gleaned from that experience over many decades.

Charitable foundations were the basis, as well as the side-victims, of his surreptitious strategy…. The slow pace and ongoing cliquish “insider” word-of-mouth marketing enabled the deception to survive for several decades. It grew beyond the expectations of a common Ponzi….

Mitchell Zuckoff, professor of journalism at Boston University, author of Ponzi‘s Scheme: The True Story of a Financial Legend, explained … “By targeting charities, Madoff could avoid the threat of sudden or unexpected withdrawals,” Zuckoff suggests that years ago, Madoff “solved the two interlocking puzzles that usually prevent Ponzi schemes from becoming perpetual money machines: sustaining growth, while maintaining stability.”

But humanity has made Madoff look like a penny-ante criminal.

By enriching the authorities, as noted, we encouraged those with the most power to solve the problem to do nothing.

By enriching those who did the most plundering the most, we enabled them to fund lobbying and disinformation campaigns to convince substantial fractions of the public and media that there is no Ponzi scheme — that global warming is “too complicated for the public to understand” and nothing to worry about.

And by “paying ourselves” with the wealth from future generations — indeed, from the next 50 generations and next 100 billion people to walk the earth (see NOAA stunner: Climate change “largely irreversible for 1000 years,” with permanent Dust Bowls in Southwest and around the globe) — we cleverly took advantage of victims not yet born, those not able to even know they were being robbed.

Madoff is reviled as a monster for targeting charities. We are targeting our own children and grandchildren and on and on. What does that make us?

I have spent a lot of time on this blog looking at the catastrophic climate impacts we face if we don’t reverse emissions trends soon (recent overview here). But I haven’t spent as much time looking at the implications of the major transition from abundance to scarcity we will be forcing down the throats of the next 50 generations. That will be a key focus of this series.

One final note. As I’ve said before, technically, we are the subspecies Homo sapiens sapiens. Isn’t it great being the only species that gets to name all the species, so we can call ourselves “wise” twice! But given how we have been destroying the planet’s livability, I think at the very least we should drop one of the sapiens. And, perhaps provisionally, we should put the other one in quotes, so we are Homo “sapiens” sapiens at least until we see whether we are smart enough to save ourselves from ourselves.

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72 Responses to Is the global economy a Ponzi scheme?

  1. Joseph

    We’ve all been participating in this huge ponzi scheme. The question is now, can we find a way out before it’s too late?

    We need three things that are in very short supply in the U.S.

    We need the media to do a better job of showing the interconnectedness of our actions. Our society has become so complex that people have lost the natural feedback loops that let us know we are creating problems for ourselves and only education and the media can remedy this.

    We need politicians who tell the truth. Our system of governance has become rigged by the ponzi scheme. The only way to get elected is not to tell the truth but cater to the money changers who put you there.

    We need to think longer term. The short term thinking that came with Wall Street’s (ponzi scheme) need for unrealistic quarter to quarter growth has killed the longer view.

    Having seen this problem coming more than thirty years ago when I launched the first large scale alternative energy development business (we had over $2 billion of large scale wind projects underway when Pres. Reagen launched the conservative revolution and killed the tax incentives – http://www.WindfarmsLTD.com) I’m no longer very optimistic that the U.S. can change direction fast enough because of the Rush Limbaugh and other blowhards and the conservatives ability to block reality thinking.

  2. S.C. Sherrer says:

    I am a simple man, but I had thought for many years if the people providing a survice can not purchase what we make then how can we continue to keep expanding,and paying for them without expanding our det! And when we cannot go into det because we hit our limite what will happen,WILL I CAN SAY NOW I KNOW AT THE BEGINING 2009 IT WILL COME TO A END END END !!!!

  3. Hank Roberts says:

    You’ll see four different results when you use both spellings, in Google and in Scholar. You know how to find this:

    http://www.issi.it/gruppi%20di%20lavoro/sviluppo%20sostenibile/Decrescita/docs/CATTON%20from%20Overshoot.pdf

    This would be educational for anyone who misses the point when applied to human affairs. We’re not different:
    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?num=50&hl=en&q=Detritivore+Overshoot&spell=1

  4. Len Ornstein says:

    Your metaphor of unbridled economic growth and the raping of the planet as a Ponzi scheme, is right on. However it’s older than consciously designed pyramid schemes.

    It’s what happens as any species decimates the resources on which it depends. It’s a Darwinian imperative that was recognized before Darwin, by Robert Malthus.
    And until we get control of our ballooning world population, all the mitigation in the world ultimately can’t help.

    It’s important to talk about population explosions AND Ponzi schemes, in the same breath!

  5. Wes Rolley says:

    Good analogy. I made the same connection to Madoff when I replied to the odious Ben Stein commentary on Sunday Morning today. It was his familiar shtick… presidents need to be cheerleaders so that we will feel safe to do spend more.

    While we discuss things intelligently, while enviornomental concerns drive protests against coal, while Bill McKibben is willing to get arrested and Ted Glick goes on a hunger strike, the energy lobby visits a governor and gets him to set aside restrictions of coal fired power plants to aid economic recovery and the PEW research poll puts global warming at the bottom of the public list of concerns.

    When Wayne (comment above) says that ‘we need the media to do a better job of showing the interconnectedness of things,” CNN and the Weather Channel have killed off their reporting on science and climate.

    We need to be selling the positives side of wind/solar and other alternatives. People will buy better / cheaper right now.

    Wes Rolley: CoChair EcoAction Committee, Green Party US

  6. Allan Rydberg says:

    Perhaps the death of GM along with it’s Hummers as well as other mis-designed cars would be a good thing for the earth. My wife is the proud owner of a 2005 Saturn.

    It seems GM in it’s infinite wisdom installed something called a passkey system which is supposed to prevent the theft of the car but what it really does is fail after about 3 years and leave the owned stranded.

    This failure is due to poor engineering where gold and tin electrical contacts are used for the passkey switch. (Gold should only be used with another gold contact) This is a poor choice that might be expected at Radio Shack but not at GM.

    In summary, They make junk.

  7. paulm says:

    One of your best posts, Joe! Inflection indeed.

    The boring term is sustainable society. Many of us are recognizing that this is not just about technology and mastering nature, but that we are nature and we need to cooperate with it.

    To sum it up – Gaia.

  8. The greatest sin is to keep sinning.

  9. John Petralia says:

    Thanks for your insight. I’ve been wondering how President Obama might make his unintelligible economic bailout(s) seem nearly coherent. Your Ponzi Scheme metaphor may be exactly what he needs. The fact is that our economic collapse is related to our profligate use of limited resources. The fact is we have all been suckered into borrowing from future generations instead of paying up now. It’s something that we can all understand. And, the fact that the economy and the environment have both suffered is a great point. In my view, it’s a point that gives the President’s cafeteria style plan a certain, everything is connected, logic we can all understand, something we can all rally around. I know the administration reads Friedman’s column; let’s hope that gets them to you.

  10. Galen says:

    Joseph,
    Love the blog, love the Ponzi scheme analogy. I have been making the same argument to my friends and family for years now but not as elegantly or succinctly as you have done!

  11. Gail says:

    Here’s a link to another blog mentioned in the NYT column, worth reading:

    http://paulgilding.com/writing/scream-crash-boom-2

  12. Sasparilla says:

    Very nice article Joe. Great read.

  13. atTC207@hotmail.com says:

    Joseph,
    If I can catch my breath after reading your utterly amazing diatribe, I will write something sensible. For now, all I can do is drink a tall glass of water (from a water utility that has owns and operates a surface reservoir, ,maintains community piping, and meets as far as I know all the US EPA quality regulations for delivering healthful supplies to its customers).

  14. David B. Benson says:

    AFAIK, generating electricity is not sustainable in the very long term; eventually we run out of copper and steel. Harrison Brownb made similar points about 50 years ago in “The Challenge of Man’s Future” and “The Next Hundred Years”.

    But assuming new, sustainable materials can be developed, sustainable electricity generation may require burning biomass if PV, solar thermal and wind are not truely sustainable in the very long term. The problem is that it takes considerable sace to grow a meaningful amount of biomass for this purpose. Very approximately, a square mile algae farm may be enough to provide 20 MW of power. That is only enough for about 378 homes at today’s typical consumption rates.

  15. Re : Paul Gilding

    “Be nice to others”

    Ok, here’s the deal :

    When ‘others’ stop fucking with my planet, I’ll stop fucking with their minds.

    Being nice to the ‘others’ of America has been an failed policy since Reagan.

  16. Mark Shapiro says:

    Joe – yes, a Ponzi scheme indeeed. And Thomas Friedman, for all his flaws, has been right about energy since at least 2002. His big megaphone makes him an important ally.

    Richard – where does your quote “The greatest sin is to keep sinning” come from? I think that idea could be central to allaying peoples’ moral fears about global warming — it is not immoral to use fossil fuels today, but it is immoral not to decarbonize as rapidly as possible.

  17. Jane Poordoe says:

    I feel like I am in the twilight zone. The community I live in has been screaming for years about conspicuous consumption.

    I remember in the mid 90′s I worked for a natural food retailer. The community pushing for organic products we were considering “trendy” and “out there” hippie-liberals. Then came deforestation. Next came bio-diesel. And so on. A college town. Nobody paid much attention. And we all took a lot of social “heat” for our ideas.

    I look at the game Sim-City and I can’t help but wonder if the fundamental principle of building up big general areas until they can’t add any new population and the only way to make the game advance is to come down into each general area and start focusing on building sustainable communities is the way to go here.

    Other organic populations all have checks and balances on them. Nature is our check and balance and it is closing in on a potential check-mate. In the wild the herd dies back and then new resources can flourish.

    Are we, as humans, potentially accountable to the same sort of natural patterns.

    Our human hubris has said “No”.

    Mother Nature may have a little surprise in store for us if we don’t modify our strategies.

  18. DB says:

    “China’s decision to join the Ponzi scheme full throttle”

    The lifting of hundreds of millions of people out of incredible poverty in countries such as China and India will probably be the best thing that humanity will do this century.

    It is unfortunate that you would deny them this.

    [JR: Sadly, you are quite wrong. Lifting 3 or 4 billion people out of extreme poverty is one of humanity's top two priorities for this century. Not condemning the next hundred billion people who walk the earth to ever worsening catastrophic impacts, however, is also one of those top two priorities.

    The Ponzi scheme is not "development" or "lifting hundreds of millions of people out of incredible poverty." It is thinking that you can do so by building one or two coal plants every week, week after week, year after year, and apparently decade after decade.

    It is unfortunate that you would deny the reality of climate science -- and the very painful reality that the poor will suffer the most from it.]

  19. Doug says:

    The solution is obvious. We need to redefine “progress,” NOT as a function of money or gross national “product,” but rather as a function of the quality of life, which encompasses the quality of environment that sustains us, and the quality of human relations, including interpresonal equity and intergenerational equity. John F Kennedy has quotes which say basically this. Bhutan call it “gross national happiness.”

  20. hapa says:

    also there is considerable overleveraging of natural assets based on wishful risk assessment

  21. paulm says:

    My favorite on exponential growth…”greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function”

    Dr. Albert Bartlett: Arithmetic, Population and Energy
    http://globalpublicmedia.com/lectures/461

    [For Jar, read earth]
    Bacteria grow by doubling. One bacterium divides to become two, the two divide to become 4, the 4 become 8, 16 and so on. Suppose we had bacteria that doubled in number this way every minute. Suppose we put one of these bacteria into an empty bottle at 11:00 in the morning, and then observe that the bottle is full at 12:00 noon. There’s our case of just ordinary steady growth: it has a doubling time of one minute, it’s in the finite environment of one bottle [Earth].

    I want to ask you three questions. Number one: at what time was the bottle half full? Well, would you believe 11:59, one minute before 12:00? Because they double in number every minute.

    And the second question: if you were an average bacterium in that bottle, at what time would you first realise you were running of space? Well, let’s just look at the last minutes in the bottle. At 12:00 noon, it’s full; one minute before, it’s half full; 2 minutes before, it’s a quarter full; then an 1?8th; then a 1?16th. Let me ask you, at 5 minutes before 12:00, when the bottle is only 3% full and is 97% open space just yearning for development, how many of you would realise there’s a problem?

    Now, in the ongoing controversy over growth in Boulder, someone wrote to the newspaper some years ago and said “Look, there’s no problem with population growth in Boulder, because,” the writer said, “we have fifteen times as much open space as we’ve already used.” So let me ask you, what time was it in Boulder when the open space was fifteen times the amount of space we’d already used? The answer is, it was four minutes before 12:00 in Boulder Valley. Well, suppose that at 2 minutes before 12:00, some of the bacteria realise they’re running out of space, so they launch a great search for new bottles. They search offshore on the outer continental shelf and in the overthrust belt and in the Arctic, and they find three new bottles. Now that’s an incredible discovery, that’s three times the total amount of resource they ever knew about before. They now have four bottles, before their discovery, there was only one. Now surely this will give them a sustainable society, won’t it?

    You know what the third question is: how long can the growth continue as a result of this magnificent discovery? Well, look at the score: at 12:00 noon, one bottle is filled, there are three to go; 12:01, two bottles are filled, there are two to go; and at 12:02, all four are filled and that’s the end of the line.

  22. Nancy says:

    “In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation… even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine.”

    —Great Law of the Iroquois

    “Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents; it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” Ancient Indian Proverb.

    We are obviously not living by these ancient Native American laws. Our children and their children are going to inherit a big mess.

  23. David B. Benson says:

    “The Recession’s Green Lining”

    http://www.newsweek.com/id/188200?from=rss

  24. DB says:

    “The Ponzi scheme is not “development” or “lifting hundreds of millions of people out of incredible poverty.” It is thinking that you can do so by building one or two coal plants every week, week after week, year after year, and apparently decade after decade.”

    The reason the Chinese are taking the ‘direct’ approach of building a coal power plant every week is because they are poor. From a column by Paul Johnson:
    http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2008/1117/023.html

    I don’t know whether this year’s financial catastrophe will shock the politicians and people of the West into a new seriousness. There’s certainly no sign of it yet. I had to laugh when a Chinese visitor recently said to me: “I see you’re going back to the windmill in Britain. We Chinese cannot afford that.”

    “t is unfortunate that you would deny the reality of climate science…”

    I do not deny the globe is warming. I am in the adaptation camp:

    Focus on climate adaptation urged
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/5312072.stm

    Climate change is inevitable, and policies to help societies adapt to a warmer future are badly needed. That is the message from the President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BA), Frances Cairncross, at the BA annual festival. She will tell delegates that even maximal deployment of the best technology cannot stop climate change….

    Ms Cairncross, who is also chair of Britain’s Economic and Social Research Council, believes that attempts to reduce emissions through the UN’s Kyoto Protocol will not work. “[Climate change] is undoubtedly going to happen on the basis of all we know at the moment,” she told BBC News.

  25. Joe says:

    DB: You are in the “misery” camp.

    Adaptation to 1000 ppm is possible in the same the citizens of New Orleans “adapted” to Katrina.

    Climate change is undoubtedly going to happen — Duh! It already is. The question is whether we take aggressive actions to avert the 1,000-year catastrophe — or we listen to the “adapters” like you, and, ironically, ensure adaptation is impossible.

  26. DB says:

    “Climate change is undoubtedly going to happen”

    Most certainly; we just don’t know exactly where or when (regional modeling lags behind global modeling). Two examples:

    #1) The IPCC reports states that one effect of global warming is “hundreds of millions of people exposed to increased water stress.” See, for example, this graphic from the executive summary:
    http://www.ipcc.ch/graphics/graphics/ar4-wg2/jpg/spm2.jpg

    While true, if one follows the references one is lead to papers on water stress by Arnell. Here is his paper from 2004 used in the 2007 AR4:

    Climate change and global water resources: SRES emissions and socio-economic scenarios
    Nigel W. Arnell
    Global Environmental Change 14 (2004) 31-52
    http://ncsp.va-network.net/UserFiles/File/PDFs/Resource%20Center/Water%20resources/Arnell_2004_waterresources.pdf

    If you look at Table 10, ‘Numbers of people (millions) with an increase or decrease in water stress’ you will find that indeed (with variations depending upon the time horizon and climate model) hundreds of millions of people are potentially exposed to increased water stress.

    However, you will also see that in 41 out of 42 scenarios the number of people experiencing a decrease in water stress in greater by hundreds of millions.

    #2) Bangladesh is at risk from rising sea levels. Over the past 30 years sea levels have been rising at 2-3mm per year. Over those same 30 years the landmass of Bangladesh has _increased_ by 20 square kilometres (eight square miles) annually. In another 30 years will Bangladesh be larger or smaller? We don’t know. If necessary, they may have to put out a RFP for some Dutch engineers.

    [JR: 'fraid this stuff is all 5 years out of date now. But if you want the stay current on the scientific literature, and our current understanding of impacts on business as usual case, which I think has evolved dramatically in the past two years, you have come to the right place!]

  27. This is a powerful entry and I believe spot on. As a boomer I am prepared to accept culpability for what we have been doing to this planet.

    What I do offer is a modality that will allow us all to constructively move into the world we must now redefine. This perspective is old, but the application is new. The Stoics of ancient Greece developed a world view which valued “reason” above all. The pursuit of pleasure, power, money and the avoidance of pain were viewed as false values derived from the mistaken and “irrational” view that happiness can come only the maximization of physical comfort. The irrational basis of this is clear.

    The maximization of any commodity based existence is a Ponzi scheme in any closed system. Only the few can ever benefit from such an approach, and it will by definition inevitably collapse. A “rational” system would allow every member of the human race to thrive but only within a system that places value on those things that produce enduring happiness.

    The paradigm the Stoics defined saw nature as the ultimate governor. In nature all things are designed for the success of the whole – the bee exists for the swarm, the bird for the flock. So too for the human animal. We too must exist not for the self-directed comfort of the one, but for the other-directed success of the species. How we accomplish this is through the exercise of what the Greeks called “virtue.” It’s not such a tough concept. The Greeks understood (not believed) that virtue, or “doing the right thing” always, was the only formula that could ever guarantee happiness.

    This was the wisdom of the ancient world, when “reason” ruled – an era when our species really deserved to be designated as homo sapiens sapiens. The idea was derived from the best of Greek philosophy and echoed in the writings of Marcus Aurelius (the philosopher-king), and perhaps will flourish once again in the dawning of the era of Barack Obama – our second philosopher-king?

    Russell McNeil PhD (Physics) is the author of the “Meditations of Marcus Aurelius: Selections Annotated and Explained”

    http://www.malaspina.org/marcus.htm

  28. DB says:

    Russell, have you enjoyed reading Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar?

  29. DB, I adore the the way you put the question. I have just finished Marcus Aurelius in Love by Amy Richlin, a pleasant diversion from my Stoic research. Nothing pleases me more though than a well conceived and well written historical novel. My favorite must be Thomas Mann’s Joseph and his Brothers, truly a masterpiece. As for Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar, I admit to ordering the book from Amazon just now – based on your recommendation. From what I have been reading about this “obscure gem,” I am looking forward to reading it with pleasure.

    Russell McNeil

  30. DB says:

    It has held up well over the years.

    By the way, if you order used books over the internet I might recommend Better World Bookstore. They send used books out to third world countries for literacy programs.

    http://www.biblio.com/bookstores/betterworldbooks.html

  31. john says:

    Re: China, and lifting folks out of poverty. Herman Daley addressed the difference between growth and development — “growth’ as we use it, would be adding more coal plants and liquidating fossil fuels, our climate, our environment and our natural endowments.

    Development would be using solar, wind, geothermal, ultra efficiency, to live within the “interest” i.e. the daily input of energy from the sun and earth.

    Growth ultimately impoverishes; development sustains.

    It’s that simple.

    And Joe — this is one of your best posts –eloquently written; and devastating in its logic.

  32. CAG says:

    At more than 81 years of age, I can look back on too many people (I am guilty myself) too much wasted time, energy and resources. I knew Hasrrison Brown years ago and I well remember his warning back in 1958. He and Paul Ehrlich were right then and few people were listening. Not only do we have too many people on the planet, but in this country, we are producing resource gobbling people more than any other country, with China and India catching up faster.

  33. Dave Gardner says:

    Thank you so much both for this excellent post and for enlightening Thomas Friedman and all his readers. The comments posted by readers of your blog would give one hope, but I’m sure you know as well as I do that there are thousands of deniers out there for every one of these englightened readers.

    But, we are chipping away at the worship of growth everlasting, bit by bit. Thanks for your valuable contributions to the effort!

    Dave Gardner
    Producer/Director
    Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity
    http://www.growthbusters.com

  34. Greg Robie says:

    Joe,

    On my way to bed I stopped by to wish you well with your testimony tomorrow. This post delighted me and now I am a bit later in that trek. If you speak from this perspective tomorrow you will not be pandering to the thinking that has caused the problem trying to be solved. That will be a great service and can help get us/US to a new paradigm.

    This weekend a tweet linked me to a color scheme for labeling orientations concerning global warming and climate change. Using this “new environmental spectrum” nomenclature, and until this blog post, I would have grouped you among the “bright greens,” and me as a “dark green.” After reading this I think I can take my shades off when reading future posts (and I look forward to the next part(s)).

    BTW, if you follow the link to Alex Steffen’s blog, check out today’s entry “The Intergenerational Ponzi Scheme” and his link to Kim Stanley Robinson article. If Arlo had it right in Alice’s Restuarent, all we need is 50 people saying this each day to have the needed movement!

  35. Ashvin A. Shah, P.E. says:

    Dear Joe Romm:

    It happened finally. An op-ed article in mainstream US news paper (Tom Friedman in NY Times) acknowledges our economy is a Ponzi scheme! He attributes his new found vision to “a few lonely economists.” Now that he recognizes the environmental dimension of our global folly he is half way there. He still does not recognize that we are not only stealing from Mother Nature that causes environment degradation but also from the just wages of other fellow human beings that causes global poverty. Let us give him and the few lonely economists more time for that revelation to occur. I trust you would work to link global poverty with global enviornment degradation (and warming) in developing soultions that address both global problems.

    Good to know of your blog and your work.

    Sincerely,
    Ashvin A. Shah,
    Engineer

  36. Joshua Trost says:

    From your own post on February 26th:

    “I am very fortunate to have this blog and many other means of communicating the dire nature of the effort to stop humanity’s self-destruction. Therefore, I am not going to participate in this activity — although I do reserve the right to change this judgment if President Obama and Congress fail to take the strongest of actions to reverse U.S. emssions trends. So I don’t see how I can call on others to do so (see “Gore calls for civil disobedience to stop coal. But will he lead like Gandhi and King?“)”

    Yet here you note that “people” aren’t educating themselves sufficiently to recognize the necessity of “standing up” on this issue; how have you stood up? Does restructuring your income stream to be based on climate education constitute sufficient “standing up”? Does implementing any number of lifestyle changes to reduce one’s carbon footprint sufficiently absolve you from guilt in the eyes of future generations?

    Or are you nothing more than a pretty fiddler, composing a song about Rome burning as the flames rise higher? Are any of us?

    [JR: I have blogged on what it is that I do to keep my footprint low -- but this is not, as I have said many times, a web site aimed at persuading people to lower their individual footprint. There are many terrific web sites that do that. This is a web site aimed at motivating the solution to this problem, which requires large-scale political action. No one person can possibly solve the problem, and everybody has to decide for themselves what is the best use of their time and talents.]

    I pose these questions because I believe Civil Disobedience is tactically the best hope for non-violently achieving the scope of change necessary. I invite all to reconsider the level of personal sacrifice made thus far in the advancement of changing the climate on the issue of Climate Change. While the type of threat is different (the enemy is ourselves), the scope is certainly on par with WWII or greater, and I think we should be more willing to sit down and blockade an inactive Congress, a Coal-fired power plant building site, and the like. If we rightly glorify the sacrifices of
    soldiers who gave their lives for the advancement of humanity, we cannot now afford to not expect minor sacrifices such as the risking of a few days in jail. We owe it to the future.

    Now, on another issue, I disagree with the dour approach to a coming scarcity versus the current plenty. This seems to me to be an improper attitude; a symptom of the drinking of the Kool-Aid which got us into the current problem in the first place rather than an accurate assessment of the situation. When we examine cultures in which material excess isn’t the goal, the quality of life is better! This is a fact, and for those unfortunate enough to have not had the opportunity to spend time immersed in 3rd world scenarios long enough to “wake up”, you need only consult any person who has to hear copious testimony to that effect. I imagine a year of living out of the reach and influence of the western machine to be enough. When your basic needs are being met sufficiently, yet your day to day existence isn’t filled with the manufacturing of new desires and efforts to sate them, a more genuinely human cultural phenomenon comes into existence. Friendships, familial roles, community interactions, and genuine living flourishes in the absence of corporate and corporeal domination!

    A coming scarcity compared to the current gluttony is on the horizon, but it does not necessarily bring with it despair. We should recognize it and promote it as the more fun and fulfilling lifestyle and way of living that it truly can be! Examples abound, but a good one might be “Village Homes” in Davis, CA. http://www.villagehomesdavis.org The built environment fosters a richer lifestyle that also happens to be more energy efficient. The development of similar examples nationwide should be a goal, rather than continued wringing of hands about coming decreases in carbon footprints and the misery it portends.

  37. jorleh says:

    Ten years more and the catastrophe is over us and there is no return. No more deniers, but any action is too late to save us. This is realism, not pessimism.

  38. DB says:

    A question for the Ponzi-ites: when did economic activity become a Ponzi scheme? Since WW2? Since the Industrial Revolution? Since the Renaissance? Since Roman times? Does it include the T’ang dynasty?

    [JR: Interesting question, had it been offered in a vein of serious discussion, rather than ridicule. Please don't attempted to trivialize this discussion. Economic activity is not inherently a Ponzi scheme.

    I think different people may have different views as to when the global economy became a Ponzi scheme. For me it has to do about willful ignorance and thus intentionally myopic behavior in the face of clear warnings of unsustainability. I think the first serious global warnings came in the 1970s.

    But for me of course it is global warming that makes this the most dangerous of Ponzi schemes, and that warning has been crystal clear for two decades.]

  39. BobHam says:

    Modern financial investment decisions are largely driven by internal rate of return analysis. Underlying such an analysis is the idea of discounted cash flows. A dollar today is worth $1. But a dollar in one year is worth say 91 cents, assuming a 10% discount rate. Most “high risk” investments end up with maybe a 20% discount rate, which means that the dollar you earn in five years from such an investment is worth roughly 40 cents. The dollar earned in ten years is worth 16 cents…. In twenty years it’s worth 2.5 cents. Short term thinking is totally baked into this equation. Even a venture capitalist, seemingly the biggest risk taker, can’t place a bet that doesn’t promise returns in 4 or 5 years at most.

    The ponzi scheme, then, stems from the inability of modern finance to recognize those costs that will be incurred by the public at large even 10 years from now. I’m not excusing anyone, by the way. Just pointing out the problem.

    Environmental economics has begun to try to place values on ecosystems that support us. But imagine trying to set a value on a stable climate in even one generation? Even with a low discount rate, something 25-30 years out just isn’t seen as having any meaningful value.

    If modern finance, and frankly capitalism as we more or less know it today, is going to survive, someone needs to tweak that model a bit and create a way of calculating the value of those public goods in a generation or two and make sure that’s incorporated into the equation. I’d bet a nobel prize of economics would be in the cards for someone who can crack that code.

  40. DB says:

    “Economic activity is not inherently a Ponzi scheme.

    I think different people may have different views as to when the global economy became a Ponzi scheme. For me it has to do about willful ignorance and thus intentionally myopic behavior in the face of clear warnings of unsustainability. I think the first serious global warnings came in the 1970s.”

    Does this mean the principal component is not the activity but the scale? Is this then a variation of carrying capacity?

    [JR: Scale matters -- but so does one's understanding of global warming. Once you have an understanding of climate science, then you are wittingly participating in a Ponzi scheme. This is related to carrying capacity, which also depends on lifestyle and technology choices.]

  41. PaulK says:

    The global economy may be a house of cards; however a house of cards is not necessarily a Ponzi scheme.

    Joe, for the achievement of your carbon reduction goals, I strongly encourage you look not to government and politicians, but to yourself and the people.

    OT…….I’ve been in comment moderation since contending McCain was, for climate only voters, a better choice in the last year’s election. I’m sure my skepticism of the catastrophic scenario played a part. The comments all seem to get posted eventually.

    A while back, the requirement for skeptics being allowed to comment was to come up with a plan to stabilize CO2 at 450 ppm by 2050. I believe I am the only one to do so. I presented a plan with one, five, ten and twenty year goals in transportation, electrical generation, and building heating and cooling. It provided specific proposals to reach those goals including eliminating or sharply cutting capital gains taxes on alternative investments and stepped up government procurement of hybrid and plug in vehicles (now part of the stimulus package).

    A while later, you introduced wedges as a conceptual model. It was informative and thought provoking. I believe I’ve identified the missing wedge, the people acting in collective voluntary association. I am actively promoting that association. The first alternative energy event in January was very well received. The next one is April 17 in Chicago. There will be an expert presentaion on residential geothermal.

  42. Colin Wright says:

    I’d like to read more about solutions. The world financial system is in crisis. The inability to provide cheap loans is now weighing down the commercial system, and threatening to collapse it. And if it falls quickly our ability to transition to renewable energy may be imperiled.

    Liberals and conservatives alike have pushed the trickle-down neoliberal model over the past 30 years. Are they now willing to consider new ways of thinking? Would they be willing to accept a new financial model whereby democratic governments (and not private banks) become the originators of debt. That is, would they ssupport a nationalized banking system? I don’t think we have much option at this point.

  43. Greg Robie says:

    BobHam, mathematically, a ponzi scheme is unsustainable. This is true whether it is exposed or not. To mix metaphors, systemically, a ponzi scheme functions as a cancer.

    In the case of the ponzi scheme/cancer of global capitalism, it is empowered by fiat currencies denominated in debt (for which the aggregate credit which has been “coined” is insufficient for the money supply that has been created). The central banks of the world, and particularly the Federal Reserve, are up the preverbal creek without a paddle–and not for lack of paddling like hell with what they can substitute.

    Global capitalism has as its reserve currency, the currency of the US–a nation with a savings rate of zero (but lots of consumption-as-psuedo-economic activity). This dynamic is, in the mathematics of economic modeling, an onymoron. The Catch 22 that keeps this error hidden is captured exceptionally well in this 6:57 youtube video compilation of comedic Rob Newman’s one person show, “History of Oil“, the entirety of which is also on youtube, and well worth the time spent being entertained/educated. As long as motivated reasoning keeps us/US feeling about money as though the money of the US was still a constitutionally “coined” currency, “tweaking” the existing economic model will be all that can be imagined. Any new mathematical model for the economy will remain, thanks to motivated reasoning, emotionally inaccessible until the systemic affect of grays, bright greens, and light greens (referenced in the previous comment) have tweeked/twittered and frittered away the planet as a habitable space for homoUNsapien sapiens.

    BTW, the Catch 22 is (are you ready for a mouthful) a functionally dysfunctional socio-psychoneuroimmunoendocrinological pas de deux of the genders of our species concerning our hormonal responses to stress (testosterone and oxytocin). This Catch 22 has, thanks to IT’s capacity to compound errors at previously unimagined rates, created an economic mono culture–and another metaphor, sorry. Global capitalism has subsumed the religious, political, military, educational, charitable, even scientific aspects of society that might otherwise provide balance and systemic checks. Global capitalism’s program code mathematically assured its collapse . . . and the irrelevance (beyond its capacity to effect oxytocin) of the hope of a tweaking of the current failed model bringing about change.

    DB, taking your inquiry seriously (for I do think it is helpful to know how the mess got started in order to wake up from its delusional thinking and, more importantly, feelings), the story I have found highly plausible is that we have the pious Dutch of the 1500 and 1600s to thank for it. At that time, religious sensibilities–and the social pressure they effected– required one to be, or at least appear, poor. As that seafaring nation began to do global trade–and get wealthy (in our modern sense), in order to appear poor/pious, the profits were plowed back into more ships and more trade until the success of this economic model eventually dominated and changed religious sensibilities to what they are now. And in our modern “secular” mindset, these sensibilities eventually morphed into the ”greed-is-good“ meme that has programed into it an ”error“ that risk management models failed to factor in: the inevitability of the collapse of the ponsi scheme/cancer/monoculture. All of this is thanks to the breaking of the Bretton Woods Agreement by President Nixon, the shift to the Federal Reserve note from the silver certificate, and OPEC’s gaining control, by fiat, of the value of the US’s currency,

    Joshua, your point about civil disobedience is well taken. Bright and light greens will avoid (flight response of testosterone to stress) such realistic approaches to our condition. In my experience, the grays are not the problem. These other shades of green are, systemically, far more primary in their causal effects that feed positively into the dynamics of the collapse. Even so, Joe makes a good point about his intent for this blog, what he is doing by maintaining the focus is for this blog is needed/critical. Comments can be added to posts that include links to other facets of the work. Systemically it is a both/and situation. Such is challenging to feeling-fully effect socially due to the afore mentioned different responses systems for stress. Paradoxically, and this is experienced as moral (what effects oxytocin and mitigates stress), the model of the shades of green and gray, while insightful, is systemically self-seving. Reality, relative to this nomenclature, is a pas de de quatre+ . . . and it is how one lives that speaks the loudest.

    Colin, at my website (linked from my name) I’ve outlined a concept that takes what you are wondering a step further and advocates for flushing the current unconstitutional fiat currency in favor of one coined in carbon. I’d value any thought you might have concerning this approach.

  44. Greg Robie says:

    edit of previous comment re: joshua:

    Joshua, your point about civil disobedience is well taken. Bright and light greens will avoid (flight response of testosterone to stress) such realistic approaches to our condition. In my experience, the grays are not the problem. These other shades of green are, systemically, far more primary in their causal effects that feed positively into the dynamics of the collapse. Even so, Joe makes a good point about his intent for this blog, what he is doing by maintaining the focus he is for this blog is needed/critical. Comments can be added to posts that include links to other facets of the work. Systemically it is a both/and situation. Such is challenging to feeling-fully effect socially. This is due to the afore mentioned different responses systems for stress. Paradoxically, and this is experienced as moral (what effects oxytocin and mitigates stress), the model of the shades of green and gray, while insightful, is systemically self-seving. Reality, relative to this nomenclature, is a pas de quatre+ . . . and it is how one lives that speaks the loudest.

    Colin, a direct link to the outline I referenced above is: http://is.gd/lJRy

  45. Jué-shan says:

    Joe:

    As dictionaries tell us, “sapio” in Latin generally means “to know”, with a wide array of nuances.

    Not having been there when palaeontologists/taxonomists first coined the term, I can only venture that, in their minds, “Homo sapiens sapiens” did not imply that the human species is doubly wise but rather that it is aware and, furthermore, aware of its own awareness. In that case, this self-reflexive consciousness is what they considered to be the distinguishing feature of human beings.

    Seeing what good it’s done us collectively so far, however, I agree we could use a little more “sapientia”, as well as compassion for those who will inhert this earth from us.

    Thanks for your thought-provoking post.

  46. Jimmy Porter says:

    Joe,

    Your insights are very useful for people to understand how critical things are with our earth. Most of the bloggers above are also helping in this realization..

    Now, we must start another dialogue to discuss ideas and consider possible solutions or approaches that will help us improve the situation. As someone already mentioned above, I didn’t see too much discussion about possible solutions..

    In my view, there is not one single way out of this: some people will try one approach, a company somewhere else will thry with their own way, a community with another way, and so on..; until a general path/pattern will emerge and the majority of people can then follow it.

    Is Isolationism and Nationalization of key institutions (banks, perhaps even some other key industries) one way..?? Not sure about it, although it might be tempting by some countries/governments.

    What about micro-communities, with their own micro-grids based on renewable energy and their own micro-society with self-grown, healthier food and jobs..?? Perhaps we need to start this way. How else would the rest of the people see with their own eyes that it can be done and then decide to follow..?

    What about a new way of Manufacturing..? a new “industrial, sustainable revolution”..? similar to what Anthony Lovins was describing in his Natural Capitalism, and others in similar books. We need to redefine the way we produce things from the beginning to the end: not merely recycling, but designing for complete re-use of the components. Unfortunately, for someone to start this in the current economic environment is very hard and needs substantial financing. The people that have these ideas don’t usually have this kind of financing, while the people that have the financing don’t usually have these ideas (and often can’t even understand them..; see Bill Gates).

    Yet another approach might be education of the younger generation(s). At least if they realize and understand what they can do, perhaps they’ll have enough critical mass to actually make the change.

    Do we need a “radical movement”, a revolution..? or can it be done in an evolutionary way (which is already happening, but is too slow currently..). Unfortunately, if we need a revolution then we are already too late: revolutions requires a big crisis, and when the time comes for the Earth to face a big crisis for everyone to wake up, then it’ll be too late..

    So, how do we start with small ideas and work on them..?? perhaps this financial, economic recession will give us the opportunity to attempt some of those “otherwise crazy” ideas..

    who knows..

  47. David B. Benson says:

    “Homo sapiens sapiens” was coined by anthropologists to distinguish modern humans from closely related, but now extinct archaic Homo sapiens. The terminology has recently been changed so that only modern humans form the species Homo sapiens, the archaic forms, such as Heidelburg man, receiving their own species names.

    So to use “Homo sapiens sapiens” marks one as not keeping up-to-data, anthropologically speaking. :-)

  48. TL says:

    It’s the population, Homo sapiens.

  49. David B. Benson says:

    Tl — Partly just sheer numbers, mostly over-consumption by a minority of the sheer numbers.

    IMHO.

  50. Chris says:

    Joe,
    I enjoyed reading about you in Friedman’s article on Sunday. I enjoyed it so much I wrote a blog post on it.

    http://blog.mapawatt.com/2009/03/10/mother-nature-father-greed/

    I especially love your quote on how we have not generated REAL wealth. I dont know how much more of this we have to go through for people to realize how much SUSTAINABILITY is worth.

  51. “In our case, investors (i.e. current generations) are paying themselves (i.e. you and me) by taking the nonrenewable resources and livable climate from future generations.”

    Joe, calling this a Ponzi scheme is brilliant. And the “wealth” supposedly generated by this scheme is what I call “air money” in my blog post “Air money–or bringing the financial crisis down to Earth.”

    The hallmark of a Ponzi scheme is that the source of growth is hidden from view: investors assume the growth is real, but in fact it’s coming from new recruits. In other words, fraud. We perpetrate this fraud in our financial accounting system by externalizing costs of loss of the biosphere and the resulting losses of mental and physical and community health. We assume corporate profits are real, but in fact, like a Ponzi scheme, they’re coming from others–people located in the future or in another part of the world.

    Now is a significant moment in our economic history, when the breakdown of what used to work means an opportunity to change. Our financial practices need a lot of change, and the first and most basic one is bringing air money down to Earth–tethering our economic practices and accounting more closely to the real, natural world.

  52. I agree with the economy acting like a Ponzi scheme on the future assessment but I won’t cave into apathy because I have some of the answers, even if I have none of the audience. Here is a thumbnail sketch, OK, sorry, I have long thumbs.

    Although we have done the usual human dramatic “wait until the timer has counted down to a second before zero” scene from an eco-disaster movie before we act responsibly, I choose to believe the Hollywood Heroes will defuse the bomb before it detonates. Heck, it will make a better movie. Crisis, for some, focuses our better nature. Giving up to despair or cynicism is not an option. No nonsense “Can do” Americans may be naïve and annoying to the rest of the world–but what else is going to change the world? Can we simultaneously be wise this time as well? Fair question.

    Going in, but with eyes wide open, is mandatory. For myself, I am trying to act in integrity and alignment with Hawkin’s and Loven’s Natural Capitalism model while prototyping an important green energy invention with ZERO operational carbon footprint. From drawing boards, well OK computer CAD, to powering the planet is a long road. But somebody has got to save the planet—why not us.

    The new class of concentrated solar power collector I have invented is cheaper than photovoltaics yet harnesses 4-7 times the power, close to the thermodynamic maxima, on not only clear days but hazy days too! It is made out of an abundant material, not the limited supply of pure PV silicon. A profitable “Manhattan Project” could gear up production worldwide to cover most walls and roofs in a few years, put a lot of people to work, and allow us to stop cutting trees, burning oil or coal. Pretty good, but there is more. I also see using “free” energy to change the hydrological-ice cycle and increase the albedo of the earth. Think more skiing while cooling the planet. Thinking local and decentralized while also thinking big is our only way out of the global problems Old Ponzi-Scheme Global Capitalism has created. A sense of humor is advised.

    Fortunately, the suite of already existing technology this new invention, and similar renewables, can empower will supply all residential and business energy needs as well as almost all world transportation needs (excluding air travel). Although that will annoy the mega-rich energy companies, this approach is a real porthole out of the coal and oil fueled climate warming sinking ship.

    But how does an “institutional nobody” get a better mousetrap manufactured in these times? Good question I am trying to thread. I doubt Obama has time to call and send over a few engineers to help. Darn. For now, wish me luck, I have to use the economy we’ve got and try to find thinking and caring investors and really good engineers. Have the Ponzi jerks poisoned the well too well? Will investors, burned by all the 3 piece Armani Ponzi artists, get past the fear in these difficult times? Are the rich still looking for the institutionalized hype and visions of immediate dollars dancing with sugar plums? Are the protective filters the rich erect to keep out the unwashed with hand out looking for hand-outs too clogged to get any new ideas through? Good question. Feels that way. Are any of those with the means to make a difference also willing to be adults? We are a clever species. My invention is clever, a lot of the rich are clever, Wall Street is clever, sure, but wise? We’ll have to wait for the sequel, next century, too find out if a species name change is needed.

    Until a transparent Natural Capitalism is adopted we will not have much wisdom in our economic foundation. Oh, by the way, if you want to help my idea along and network, and, oh by the way save-a-planet, please do. It will look good on your résumé and I will appreciate it. But you should know that, unlike the Ponzi artists, demonstrable physics and engineering, not sugar plums, will be our “Shibboleth” to the truth.

  53. John Nolan says:

    Joe – Your discussion tonight at the Museum of Natural History in NYC was much appreciated. After the talk, I discussed messenging and total land-based ice melt.

    Ponzi may be the near-term answer to the messenging puzzle. The crowd applauded only once tonight; that was in response to your explanation of our current consumption as dwarfing the evil of Madoff.

    I am running with this messenging approach, shamelessly stolen from you. Brilliantly accurate and obvious.

    Thank you,
    John Nolan, Bergen County, NJ

  54. nsrig says:

    Here are a few Ideas would like too add/expand on

    -The only way climate destruction can be slowed is though massive changes in every aspect of our modern lives.

    -Fundamental misconceptions about how our minds and world work are rampantly being passed on by our religious and political leaders.

    -Financial systems create negative incentive to do what is right for the world and the community.

    -We know from statistical analysis that financial prosperity and happiness have almost no correlation. (Any correlation is in the extreme shot term, which simply exemplifies the human inability to judge value when distorted by temporal distance)

    It seems to me that something about north american capitalist culture minimizes peoples ability for radical revolution, and particulary the willingness to admit the inherent flaws of our economic systems. The fact is that this problems facing us today are too big for humans. Especially too big for the majority ( lazy, uneducated, and undisciplined people who have invested their entire lives in this system ) to dedicate any attention to. People seem strangley assured in thinking that someone else is looking after them, and its that persons job to take care of the big problems. But we live in an ecomonic world, and the bottom line for all of us is that a peice of paper holds more value than human life. People undervalue their own lives, their propensity to learn, and their interconnectedness with the rest of the world. It is a cyclycal problem where ignorance begets growth, and growth begets ignorance.

    I sit here humbled by these problems because I know that in describing the ‘lazy, uneducated, and undisciplined’ I am also talking about myself. We are all part of this machine, and its easy to feel like we are being swallowed up and our lives shadowed by the super-structures, super-productions, and super-powers.

    Maybe there is something worth being valued more than our own lives, it is definitley not a monetary fingure. It is the means by which we must now extend ourselves (as the minority facing up to these issues) to make a difference quick enough that out children, and grandchildren will not suffer the loss of knowledge, science, and technology that will surely occur when our environmental desruction spins our entire society out of control.

  55. John says:

    Refer the Peak Oil point of view combined with the ecologist’s understanding of “Overshoot” and obviously this never to be repeated Ponzi scheme has been fuelled by oil,coal and gas, a never to be repeated “gift” of cosmic quantities of stored energy released by our machines’ combustion engines.
    So, we have been able to party it up, like there’s no tomorrow, and for future generations tomorrow will be much less party like! Peak Oilers feel it’s too late to lament the past, but we must now start to adapt to the very different future now fast approaching: E.G. By relocalising food production and practising population control. Most Peak Oilers think easily available oil peaked in 2005 and same plus other sources, like Alberta tar sands and deep sea ,peaked in 2008. Once the current economic deflation starts to inflate again oil prices will shoot up again as supply is topped out and in decline.
    So we have to start to adapt to what’s coming and if possible we must all cooperate rather than compete for the remaining “scraps of the 20c great Oil fiesta”. Refer following authors and websites : http://www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net, http://www.energybulletin.com, http://www.Postcarbon.org,www.kunstler.com,

  56. AWARNESS! 3/19/09 from ORLANDO FLORIDA, “CITY of LIGHTS”

    Only weeks before the 2004 Presidential Elections, a prophetic book was published at http://www.Aleuzenev.com. It was titled: “The REVELATION for PEACE from JESUS CHRIST to the WORLD.” Somewhere at the beginning on the first page it reads: Expanding Mercy and Love with our World neighbors, and feeding the hungry and the poor is also and order from the Lord to all people; but to those that have received power, the prophet writes: “Health, Education and Feeding the Poor must be their only concern”. But the anti-CHRIST rather ravages the wealth of the people building weapons to kill and destroy; maintaining armies wasting WARS in his own vision of PEACE. The book ends with a Prophesy (Wars melting the Wealth of the people) that has been, and continuous to be fulfilled on our times: And behold; the night vision was now like in a great television screen showing the name: The King of MYTERY BABILON the GREAT; then, there appeared the President of the United States of America; dressed with a tricolor hooded cloak garment of stars. And he had in his head a crown of gold that was melting; and the precious metal was going into his eyes making him blind; and when he walked toward a ceremonial bowl filled with water to clean his eyes; he then tripped his foot against a Stone, a precious corner Stone set by the ceremonial bowl that was filled with water. And as he stumbled and fell, his right foot got caught into the ceremonial vessel and the water turned to blood. The president was trying desperately to get his foot out of the bowl while his back was against the floor; but his foot was caught in the vessel with his greed and egotistical pride; and he was shaking his foot with anger and the satisfaction of force while on his back; but the ritual kettle was boiling over with the sacrificial blood of multitudes of humans and melting his sword. Poor and innocent soldiers from many nations, poor and innocent civilians from Afghanistan and Iraq; the blood of poor and innocents children, women and elders from all over the world was overflowing along his side. And his cabinet along with the republican and democratic courts, and the clergy were there by his side; standing on their knees inebriated with the wrath of his wine; as the American ceremonial vessel became a drowning river of blood. And there came on the screen the words written: “THE LAMENTATION of ABOMINABLE HIPOCRASY.”

    Pray for you and Peace for the World,
    Ivor Manuel prophet

  57. Hey Joe,

    You are right. I think that is why so many young people are fired up about global warming. We simply are starting realize that our parent’s generation is robbing us of a livable world in the name of passing on to us the lifestyle they hope for us. If young people around the world can wake up to this fact, we have a chance of bringing political change by speaking for the future generations that are being robbed today.

  58. Jim Bullis says:

    Richard Graves,

    With the present economy it looks like we will not be passing on the life style we hope for our kids and we will also be messing up the world.

    If it appears that the economy is getting better due to financial machinations of the government, watch out, because the cost of these kinds of solutions will also fall to the future generations.

    We have to find a way to start producing again if the future is to be anything like we might hope.

  59. raivo pommer-eesti says:

    Raivo Pommer-estonia-www.google.ee

    raimo1@hot.ee

    Google

    Nach jahrelangem Wachstum streicht der erfolgsverwöhnte Internetkonzern Google in der Krise zunehmend Stellen. In den Bereichen Verkauf und Marketing sollen weltweit 200 Jobs wegfallen, kündigte Google in seinem Internetblog an. Das Unternehmen hat insgesamt 20 200 Mitarbeiter. Google habe in seiner raschen Expansion einige Überkapazitäten geschaffen, schrieb der unter anderem für den Vertrieb zuständige Vizepräsident Omid Kordestani im Internet. Seit Anfang des Jahres hat der Konzern bereits 100 Stellen im Personalbereich gestrichen sowie einige weitere in kleineren eingestellten Geschäftsfeldern.

    Dennoch sieht das Unternehmen trotz der weltweiten Wirtschaftskrise großes Potenzial für ein weiteres Wachstum. “Es gibt keine fundamentale Kraft, die uns vom Wachsen abhalten könnte”, sagte Google-Mitgründer Larry Page dem Schweizer Wirtschaftsmagazin “Bilanz”. “Ich bin noch immer sehr optimistisch, was unsere Produkte und unsere Marktposition angeht.” Google habe heute mehr Möglichkeiten im Kerngeschäft als je zuvor. Wie lange die Rezession auch noch dauern werde, “wir werden immer mit vollem Dampf vorwärts fahren”, sagte Page. Derzeit arbeite Google an einer Technologie, die das Anzeigengeschäft für TV-Werbung mit Werbeplatzierungen auf der Videoplattform YouTube verbinden solle, berichtet das “Wall Street J.”

  60. Bill Strigler says:

    I find your appraisal fascinating. However, we are a species that functions through Newtonian physics. In the presence of a stressor, a system reacts in an equal and opposite direction. My historically-based suggestion is similar to Marxian historical theory. We always have a thesis, a current system, that is always subject to challenges that request change, the antithesis, that eventually yield the synthesis, some system that is in between the two. Typically, crisis has yielded a radical synthesis. Think of 9/11, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, even last year’s hike in gas prices and how the lowering of those gas prices has encouraged a resumption of anti-environmental behaviors, especially the sale of SUV’s. Regretfully, we cannot devise an accurate model to test hypotheses on climate change just as we cannot devise models for the current economic crisis because there exist too many inputs from too many sources. When the symptoms of climate change become so radically apparent to a point where the survival instinct kicks in , then everyone will scream for solutions because their greed for money will provide no solace without life, a thesis we have challenged since caveman days.

  61. Anonymous says:

    Strigler, you state that “we are a species that functions through Newtonian physics” as if 1 – Newton provided the conclusive, final word on how physics functions AND 2 – we are the ONLY species functioning “through Newtonian physics” as if in a universe apart from all other species. This is an absurd statement and one that reflects the hubristic certitude so rampant in people who view science itself as an idol to worship. Science, with all of its progress over the years, is still a human invention, as is economics. NEITHER would exist if not for the natural world from which both sprang. Get back to basics. Consider that humans have cut themselves off from the inherent wisdom of the natural world…..and thus do not respect it – while forgetting that we are not separate from it. Stupid, perhaps?

  62. James Newberry says:

    1) Much of the economic Ponzi scheme is built on the concept of mined hydrocarbon material resources fraudulently identified as “energy resources.”
    2) Revolution is the founding principle of the United States, and we revolve around the sun every second of our lives.
    3) The climate is only responding to tragic human actions based on Western thought. The primary cause is burning billion year old resources due to corruption of government. Perhaps only another effort for democracy via elimination of paid (corporate) lobbyists in Congress will suffice.

  63. Cynthia says:

    Loved this blog! I will copy it and send to my relatives. (Also saddened me).

  64. Shannon says:

    This is a great blog. I love the comments more than the article its self.

  65. shannon says:

    love this blog. I think it is. Social Security is a legal ponzi scheme. But we still buy into it.

  66. jeff says:

    this is the first time on this site. It has a lot of great information. thanks guys.

  67. James Newberry says:

    Engineers and other technologists all over the world calculate energy efficiency as combustion (burning) efficiency. This has led to the definition of ancient material resources (hydrocarbons extracted by mining) perversely as energy resources. Energy is not defined as solid, liquid or gas. These are the phases of matter. The difference is as profound as the difference between up/down, in/out, left/right, man/woman, democracy/fascism, life/death.

    The earth, and scientific philosophy, does not acknowledge “dirty,” “nonrenewable,” or “fossil fuel” energy. Only our perverse “economy” does. All physical phenomena on earth are either matter or energy. The hydrocarbon materials were formed through photosynthetic efficiency of less than one percent. Even discounting the definition of resources, combustion multiplied by photosynthetic efficiency is a “sustainable” efficiency of about zero.

    The financial ponzi scheme is an economy built on the concept of mining as the provision of energy, while the sun’s radiative energy delivered to earth in an hour is equal to all measured commercial “energy” wasted by the globalized paradigm of “economy” over an entire year. Although, what we are really doing is reverting the climate to past geologic stages when seas were hundreds of feet higher through injection of carbonic acid gas into the ecosphere. Which is of course, suicidal.

    Thanks to nonviolent protestors at Copenhagen who wish to change epic economic fraud to ecologic sustenance for present and all future generations.

  68. Cynthia says:

    John, thanks so much for the reference site on peak oil. It was extremely interesting– I’ve spent the whole afternoon reading it! There’s an excellent book I read by Kunstler called, “The Long Emergency” (also on the subject of Peak Oil). But the website had a lot of additional information (stunning information, I might add!) which the book didn’t have. Thanks again!

  69. Cynthia says:

    In reference to DB’s statement about China (the issue of their poverty vesus the climate change issue)…

    My roommate is from China. When she first came here, she was elated that we have heat in the winter time and an oven. She had never experienced either or seen an oven. She said that they have to wear many layers of clothes in the winter time in China because they don’t have heat.

    As nice and convenient as it would be for all the Chinese to have heat and luxeries like we Westerners do, it is far better for them to have clean water and sufficient food. To build a bunch of coal fired power plants may help in keeping them warm but of what value would that be if, in the process they ended up with no food or water? And that is what they would get if they don’t stop with all the coal fired power plants: no water for drinking or irrigation!

    The Himilayan mountains are losing glaciers rapidly and that’s where their water comes from: the run off- waters in the Himilayan mountains. This will only get much worse in the days ahead because of a warmer world. If one duty contradicts another duty, then it is not real duty. To build coal fired power plants and engage in other activities which heat up the planet are not real duties (no matter how appropriate they may seem at first glance) if they cause other, even worse problems!

    So, no, Joe wasn’t trying to deny the Chinese the right to extricate themselves from poverty. He simply wants it done the right way– where it doesn’t bring even greater harm. And I agree with him!

  70. zeitgeist says:

    great article, check out thezeitgeistmovement[dot]com for interesting approach to the great economic/financial and ecological ponzi-scheme that is ruining our world. a lot of people aware and interested in this topic there thinking about possible solutions and transformation of our civilization for a sustainable future for all of us Homo-not-so-much-sapiens :)

  71. So, no, Joe wasn’t trying to deny the Chinese the right to extricate themselves from poverty. He simply wants it done the right way– where it doesn’t bring even greater harm. And I agree with him!

    71.zeitgeist says:
    December 27, 2009 at 9:57 pm
    great article, check out thezeitgeistmovement[dot]com for interesting approach to the great economic/financial and ecological ponzi-scheme that is ruining our world. a lot of people aware and interested in this topic there thinking about possible solutions and transformation of our civilization for a sustainable future for all of us Homo-not-so-much-sapiens

    thanx