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Since the late 1990s, globalization has seemed to be the great hope for the future. Now this great hope seems to be dimming. Globalization sets up conflict in the area of jobs. Countries around the world compete for development and jobs. If there is not enough cheap-to-produce energy to go around, huge wage disparity is likely to result.

We know from physics and history that economies need to grow, or they collapse. The wage disparity that high-wage countries have been experiencing in recent years is evidence that the world economy is already reaching energy limits. There are no longer enough jobs that pay well to go around. Any drop in energy supply is likely to worsen the job situation.

Most observers miss this problem, because they expect high oil prices to signal energy limits. This time, the signal is low wages for a significant group of workers, rather than high oil prices. This situation is possible in a networked economy, but it is not what most people look for.

Unhappy citizens can be expected to react to the wage disparity problem by electing leaders who favor limits to globalization. This can only play out in terms of reduced globalization.

History and physics suggest that economies without adequate energy supply can be expected to collapse. We have several recent examples of partial collapses, including the Great Depression of the 1930s and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Such collapses, or even more extensive collapses, might occur again if we cannot find energy alternatives that can be quickly scaled up to replace oil and coal in the very near term. These replacements need to be cheap-to-produce, non-polluting, and available in huge quantities.

The story that the economy doesn’t really need a growing supply of very cheap-to-produce energy is simply a myth. Let’s look at some of the pieces of this story.

 

[1] The world economy needs to grow or it collapses. Once all of the nations of the world are included in the world economy, one obvious source of growth (incorporating nations that are not yet industrialized into the world economy) disappears. 

The reason why the world economy needs to grow is because the economy is a self-organized system that operates under the laws of physics. In many ways it is like a two-wheeled bicycle. A bicycle needs to roll quickly enough, or it will fall over. An economy must grow quickly enough, or debt cannot be repaid with interest.

Also, government promises may be a problem with slow growth. Pensions for the elderly are typically paid out of tax revenue collected in that same year. It is easy for a mismatch to take place if the number of younger workers is shrinking or if their wages are lagging behind.

Figure 1. Author’s view of analogies of speeding upright bicycle to speeding economy.

I explain a little more about my bicycle analogy in Will the World Economy Continue to “Roll Along” in 2018?

Economies throughout the ages have collapsed. In some cases, entire civilizations have disappeared. In the past 100 years, partial collapses have included the Great Depression of the 1930s, the collapse of the central government of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the Great Recession of 2008-2009. Economic collapses are analogous to bicycles falling over.

[2] A growing supply of energy products is extraordinarily important for keeping the world economy operating.

We can see in Figure 1 that the energy of the person operating a bicycle is very important in allowing the operation of the bicycle to continue. In the world’s economy, the situation is similar, except that we are facing a problem of a world population that is continually growing. In a sense, the economic situation is more like a rapidly growing army of bicycles with riders. Each member of the economy needs goods and services such as food, homes, clothing, and transportation. The members of the economy can collapse individually (for example, growing suicide rate) or in much larger groups (collapsing government of a country).

Figure 2. World population according to the United Nations 2017 historical estimates and Medium forecast of population growth after 2017.

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2 x Peter Murphy

2 X Colin Newman

 

Leonard Cohen – Songs of Leonard Cohen (67)

Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground and Nico (67)

Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground (69)

David Bowie – Space Oddity (69)

David Bowie – Hunky Dory (71)

David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust (72)

Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers – Rock’n Roll With the Modern Lovers (77)

Buzzcocks – Another Music in a Different Kitchen (78)

The Clash – London Calling (79)

Talking Heads – Remain in Light (80)

Tuxedomoon – Half-Mute (80)

Tuxedomoon – Desire (81)

The Sound – From the Lions Mouth (81)

Bauhaus – Mask (81)

The Fall – Hex Enduction Hour (82)

Virgin Prunes – If I Die I Die (82)

Psychedelic Furs – Forever Now (82)

The Chameleons – Script of the Bridge (83)

The The – Soul Mining (83)

REM – Murmur (83)

The Go-Betweens – Before Hollywood (83)

The Fall – The Wonderful and Frightening World of  (84)

Julian Cope – Fried (84)

Sétima Legião – A Um Deus Desconhecido (84)

Tom Verlaine – Cover (84)

Dali’s Car – The Waking Hour (84)

Tuxedomoon – Holy Wars (85)

Tom Waits – Rain Dogs (85)

Love and Rockets – The Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven (85)

The Pogues – Rum, Sodomy & the Lash (85)

La Polla Records – La Revolución (85)

The Smiths – Meat is Murder (85)

The Smiths – The Queen is Dead (86)

REM – Lifes Rich Pageant (86)

Peter Murphy – Should the World Faill to Fall Apart (86)

Dead Kennedys – Bedtime for Democracy (86)

Nick Cave – Your Funeral, My Trial (86)

Felt – Forever Breaths the Lonely Word (86)

Pop dell Arte – Free Pop (87)

Tuxedomoon – You (87)

The Go-Betweens – Tallulah (87)

Minimal Compact – The Figure One Cuts (87)

Sonic Youth – Sister (87)

The Band of Holy Joy – Manic, Magic, Majestic (89)

The Band of Holy Joy – Positively Spooked (90)

Momus – Monsters of Love (90)

Pixies – Bossanova (90)

Steven Brown – Half-Out (91)

Gavin Friday & The Man Seezer – Each Man Kills the Thing He Loves (93)

Morphine – Cure for Pain (93)

By Robert Sapolsky

 

As a kid, I saw the 1968 version of Planet of the Apes. As a future primatologist, I was mesmerized. Years later I discovered an anecdote about its filming: At lunchtime, the people playing chimps and those playing gorillas ate in separate groups.

It’s been said, “There are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide the world into two kinds of people and those who don’t.” In reality, there’s lots more of the former. And it can be vastly consequential when people are divided into Us and Them, ingroup and outgroup, “the people” (i.e., our kind) and the Others.

The core of Us/Them-ing is emotional and automatic.

Humans universally make Us/Them dichotomies along lines of race, ethnicity, gender, language group, religion, age, socioeconomic status, and so on. And it’s not a pretty picture. We do so with remarkable speed and neurobiological efficiency; have complex taxonomies and classifications of ways in which we denigrate Thems; do so with a versatility that ranges from the minutest of microaggression to bloodbaths of savagery; and regularly decide what is inferior about Them based on pure emotion, followed by primitive rationalizations that we mistake for rationality. Pretty depressing.

But crucially, there is room for optimism. Much of that is grounded in something definedly human, which is that we all carry multiple Us/Them divisions in our heads. A Them in one case can be an Us in another, and it can only take an instant for that identity to flip. Thus, there is hope that, with science’s help, clannishness and xenophobia can lessen, perhaps even so much so that Hollywood-extra chimps and gorillas can break bread together.

The Strength of Us Versus Them

Considerable evidence suggests that dividing the world into Us and Them is deeply hard-wired in our brains, with an ancient evolutionary legacy. For starters, we detect Us/Them differences with stunning speed. Stick someone in a “functional MRI”—a brain scanner that indicates activity in various brain regions under particular circumstances. Flash up pictures of faces for 50 milliseconds—a 20th of a second—barely at the level of detection. And remarkably, with even such minimal exposure, the brain processes faces of Thems differently than Us-es.

This has been studied extensively with the inflammatory Us/Them of race. Briefly flash up the face of someone of a different race (compared with a same-race face) and, on average, there is preferential activation of the amygdala, a brain region associated with fear, anxiety, and aggression. Moreover, other-race faces cause less activation than do same-race faces in the fusiform cortex, a region specializing in facial recognition; along with that comes less accuracy at remembering other-race faces. Watching a film of a hand being poked with a needle causes an “isomorphic reflex,” where the part of the motor cortex corresponding to your own hand activates, and your hand clenches—unless the hand is of another race, in which case less of this effect is produced.

The brain’s fault lines dividing Us from Them are also shown with the hormone oxytocin. It’s famed for its pro-social effects—oxytocin prompts people to be more trusting, cooperative, and generous. But, crucially, this is how oxytocin influences behavior toward members of your own group. When it comes to outgroup members, it does the opposite.

The automatic, unconscious nature of Us/Them-ing attests to its depth. This can be demonstrated with the fiendishly clever Implicit Association Test. Suppose you’re deeply prejudiced against trolls, consider them inferior to humans. To simplify, this can be revealed with the Implicit Association Test, where subjects look at pictures of humans or trolls, coupled with words with positive or negative connotations. The couplings can support the direction of your biases (e.g., a human face and the word “honest,” a troll face and the word “deceitful”), or can run counter to your biases. And people take slightly longer, a fraction of a second, to process discordant pairings. It’s automatic—you’re not fuming about clannish troll business practices or troll brutality in the Battle of Somewhere in 1523. You’re processing words and pictures, and your anti-troll bias makes you unconsciously pause, stopped by the dissonance linking troll with “lovely,” or human with “malodorous.”

We’re not alone in Us/Them-ing. It’s no news that other primates can make violent Us/Them distinctions; after all, chimps band together and systematically kill the males in a neighboring group. Recent work, adapting the Implicit Association Test to another species, suggests that even other primates have implicit negative associations with Others. Rhesus monkeys would look at pictures either of members of their own group or strangers, coupled with pictures of things with positive or negative connotations. And monkeys would look longer at pairings discordant with their biases (e.g., pictures of members of their own group with pictures of spiders). These monkeys don’t just fight neighbors over resources. They have negative associations about them—“Those guys are like yucky spiders, but us, us, we’re like luscious fruit.”

Thus, the strength of Us/Them-ing is shown by the: speed and minimal sensory stimuli required for the brain to process group differences; tendency to group according to arbitrary differences, and then imbue those differences with supposedly rational power; unconscious automaticity of such processes; and rudiments of it in other primates. As we’ll see now, we tend to think of Us, but not Thems, fairly straightforwardly.

The Nature of Us

Across cultures and throughout history, people who comprise Us are viewed in similarly self-congratulatory ways—We are more correct, wise, moral, and worthy. Us-ness also involves inflating the merits of our arbitrary markers, which can take some work—rationalizing why our food is tastier, our music more moving, our language more logical or poetic.

Us-ness also carries obligations toward the other guy—for example, in studies in sports stadiums, a researcher posing as a fan, complete with sweatshirt supporting one of the teams and in need of help with something, is more likely to be helped by a fellow fan than by an opposing one.

Ingroup favoritism raises a key question—at our core, do we want Us to do “well” by maximizing absolute levels of well being, or merely “better than,” by maximizing the gap between Us and Them?

We typically claim to wish for the former, but can smolder with desire for the latter. This can be benign—in a tight pennant race, a loss for the hated rival to a third party is as good as a win for the home team, and for sectarian sports fans, both outcomes similarly activate brain pathways associated with reward and the neurotransmitter dopamine. But sometimes, choosing “better than” over “well” can be disastrous. It’s not a great mindset to think you’ve won World War III if afterward Us have two mud huts and three fire sticks and They have only one of each.

Among the most pro-social things we do for ingroup members is readily forgive them for transgressions. When a Them does something wrong, it reflects essentialism—that’s the way They are, always have been, always will be. When an Us is in the wrong, however, the pull is toward situational interpretations—we’re not usually like that, and here’s the extenuating circumstance to explain why he did this. Situational explanations for misdeeds are the reason why defense lawyers want jurors who will view the defendant as an Us.

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Recently, a Spanish group called “Ecologist in Action” asked me to give them a presentation on what kind of financial crisis we should expect. They wanted to know when it would be and how it would take place.

The answer I had for the group is that we should expect financial collapse quite soon–perhaps as soon as the next few months. Our problem is energy related, but not in the way that most Peak Oil groups describe the problem. It is much more related to the election of President Trump and to the Brexit vote.

I have talked about this subject in various forms before, but not since 2016 energy production and consumption data became available. Most of the slides in this presentation use new BP data, through 2016. A copy of the presentation can be found at this link: The Next Financial Crisis.1

Most people don’t understand how interconnected the world economy is. All they understand is the simple connections that economists make in their models.

Slide 2

Energy is essential to the economy, because energy is what makes objects move, and what provides heat for cooking food and for industrial processes. Energy comes in many forms, including sunlight, human energy, animal energy, and fossil fuels. In today’s world, energy in the form of electricity or petroleum makes possible the many things we think of as technology.

In Slide 2, I illustrate the economy as hollow because we keep adding new layers of the economy on top of the old layers. As new layers (including new products, laws, and consumers) are added, old ones are removed. This is why we can’t necessarily use a prior energy approach. For example, if cars can no longer be used, it would be difficult to transition back to horses. This happens partly because there are few horses today. Also, we do not have the facilities in cities to “park” the horses and to handle the manure, if everyone were to commute using horses. We would have a stinky mess!

Slide 3

In the past, many local civilizations have grown for a while, and then collapsed. In general, after a group finds a way to produce more food (for example, cuts down trees so that citizens have more area to farm) or finds another way to otherwise increase productivity (such as adding irrigation), growth at first continues for a number of generations–until the population reaches the new carrying capacity of the land. Often resources start to degrade as well–for example, soil erosion may become a problem.

At this point, growth flattens out, and wage disparity and growing debt become greater problems. Eventually, unless the group can find a way of increasing the amount of food and other needed goods produced each year (such as finding a way to get food and other materials from territories in other parts of the world, or conquering another local civilization and taking their land), the civilization is headed for collapse. We recently have tried globalization, with exports from China, India, and other Asian nations fueling world economic growth.

At some point, the efforts to keep growing the economy to match rising population become unsuccessful, and collapse sets in. One of the reasons for collapse is that the government cannot collect enough taxes. This happens because with growing wage disparity, many of the workers cannot afford to pay much in taxes. Another problem is greater susceptibility to epidemics, because after-tax income of many workers is not sufficient to afford an adequate diet.

Slide 4

A recent partial collapse of a local civilization was the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. When this happened, the government of the Soviet Union disappeared, but the governments of the individual states within the Soviet Union remained. The reason I call this a partial collapse is because the rest of the world was still functioning, so nearly all of the population remained, and the cutback in fuel consumption was just partial. Eventually, the individual member countries were able to function on their own.

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É Tudo Nosso

Most Populous Mammals On Earth

10. Donkey (40 million)

9. Horse (60 million)

8. Tame Water Buffalo (175 million)

7. Domestic Dog (425 million)

6. Domestic Cat (625 million)

5. Goats (860 million)

4. Pigs (1.0 billion)

3. Sheep (1.1 billion)

2. Cows (1.5 billion)

1. Humans (7.3 billion)

OU TALVEZ NÃO (OU NÃO POR MUITO MAIS TEMPO)

land_mammals

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Paul Ehrlich, Anne Ehrlich

There is no doubt that Earth is undergoing the sixth mass extinction in its history – the first since the cataclysm that wiped out the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago. According to one recent study, species are going extinct between ten and several thousand times faster than they did during stable periods in the planet’s history, and populations within species are vanishing hundreds or thousands of times faster than that. By one estimate, Earth has lost half of its wildlife during the past 40 years. There is also no doubt about the cause: We are it.

We are in the process of killing off our only known companions in the universe, many of them beautiful and all of them intricate and interesting. This is a tragedy, even for those who may not care about the loss of wildlife. The species that are so rapidly disappearing provide human beings with indispensable ecosystem services: regulating the climate, maintaining soil fertility, pollinating crops and defending them from pests, filtering fresh water, and supplying food.

 The cause of this great acceleration in the loss of the planet’s biodiversity is clear: rapidly expanding human activity, driven by worsening overpopulation and increasing per capita consumption. We are destroying habitats to make way for farms, pastures, roads, and cities. Our pollution is disrupting the climate and poisoning the land, water, and air. We are transporting invasive organisms around the globe and overharvesting commercially or nutritionally valuable plants and animals.

The more people there are, the more of Earth’s productive resources must be mobilized to support them. More people means more wild land must be put under the plow or converted to urban infrastructure to support sprawling cities like Manila, Chengdu, New Delhi, and San Jose. More people means greater demand for fossil fuels, which means more greenhouse gases flowing into the atmosphere, perhaps the single greatest extinction threat of all. Meanwhile, more of Canada needs to be destroyed to extract low-grade petroleum from oil sands and more of the United States needs to be fracked.

More people also means the production of more computers and more mobile phones, along with more mining operations for the rare earths needed to make them. It means more pesticides, detergents, antibiotics, glues, lubricants, preservatives, and plastics, many of which contain compounds that mimic mammalian hormones. Indeed, it means more microscopic plastic particles in the biosphere – particles that may be toxic or accumulate toxins on their surfaces. As a result, all living things – us included – have been plunged into a sickening poisonous stew, with organisms that are unable to adapt pushed further toward extinction.

With each new person, the problem gets worse. Since human beings are intelligent, they tend to use the most accessible resources first. They settle the richest, most productive land, drink the nearest, cleanest water, and tap the easiest-to-reach energy sources.

And so as new people arrive, food is produced on less fertile, more fragile land. Water is transported further or purified. Energy is produced from more marginal sources. In short, each new person joining the global population disproportionately adds more stress to the planet and its systems, causing more environmental damage and driving more species to extinction than members of earlier generations.

To see this phenomenon at work, consider the oil industry. When the first well was drilled in Pennsylvania in 1859, it penetrated less than 70 feet into the soil before hitting oil. By comparison, the well drilled by Deepwater Horizon, which famously blew up in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, began a mile beneath the water’s surface and drilled a few miles into the rock before finding oil. This required a huge amount of energy, and when the well blew, it was far harder to contain, causing large-scale, ongoing damage to the biodiversity of the Gulf and the adjacent shorelines, as well as to numerous local economies.

The situation can be summarized simply. The world’s expanding human population is in competition with the populations of most other animals (exceptions include rats, cattle, cats, dogs, and cockroaches). Through the expansion of agriculture, we are now appropriating roughly half of the energy from the sun used to produce food for all animals – and our needs are only growing.

With the world’s most dominant animal – us – taking half the cake, it is little wonder that the millions of species left fighting over the other half have begun to disappear rapidly. This is not just a moral tragedy; it is an existential threat. Mass extinctions will deprive us of many of the ecosystem services on which our civilization depends. Our population bomb has already claimed its first casualties. They will not be the last.