Why political correctness fails – Why what we know ‘for sure’ is wrong

Most of us are familiar with the Politically Correct (PC) World View. William Deresiewicz describes the view, which he calls the “religion of success,” as follows:

There is a right way to think and a right way to talk, and also a right set of things to think and talk about. Secularism is taken for granted. Environmentalism is a sacred cause. Issues of identity—principally the holy trinity of race, gender, and sexuality—occupy the center of concern.

There are other beliefs that go with this religion of success:

  • Wind and solar will save us.
  • Electric cars will make transportation possible indefinitely.
  • Our world leaders are all powerful.
  • Science has all of the answers.

To me, this story is pretty much equivalent to the article, “Earth Is Flat and Infinite, According to Paid Experts,” by Chris Hume in Funny Times. While the story is popular, it is just plain silly.

In this post, I explain why many popular understandings are just plain wrong. I cover many controversial topics, including environmentalism, peer-reviewed literature, climate change models, and religion. I expect that the analysis will surprise almost everyone.

Myth 1: If there is a problem with the lack of any resource, including oil, it will manifest itself with high prices.

As we reach limits of oil or any finite resource, the problem we encounter is an allocation problem. 

What happens if economy stops growing

Figure 1. Two views of future economic growth. Created by author.

As long as the quantity of resources we can extract from the ground keeps rising faster than population, there is no problem with limits. The tiny wedge that each person might get from these growing resources represents more of that resource, on average. Citizens can reasonably expect that future pension promises will be paid from the growing resources. They can also expect that, in the future, the shares of stock and the bonds that they own can be redeemed for actual goods and services.

If the quantity of resources starts to shrink, the problem we have is almost a “musical chairs” type of problem.

Figure 2. Circle of chairs arranged for game of musical chairs. Source

In each round of a musical chairs game, one chair is removed from the circle. The players in the game must walk around the outside of the circle. When the music stops, all of the players scramble for the remaining chairs. Someone gets left out.

The players in today’s economic system include

  • High paid (or elite) workers
  • Low paid (or non-elite) workers
  • Businesses
  • Governments
  • Owners of assets (such as stocks, bonds, land, buildings) who want to sell them and exchange them for today’s goods and services

If there is a shortage of a resource, the standard belief is that prices will rise and either more of the resource will be found, or substitution will take place. Substitution only works in some cases: it is hard to think of a substitute for fresh water. It is often possible to substitute one energy product for another. Overall, however, there is no substitute for energy. If we want to heat a substance to produce a chemical reaction, we need energy. If we want to move an object from place to place, we need energy. If we want to desalinate water to produce more fresh water, this also takes energy.

The world economy is a self-organized networked system. The networked system includes businesses, governments, and workers, plus many types of energy, including human energy. Workers play a double role because they are also consumers. The way goods and services are allocated is determined by “market forces.” In fact, the way these market forces act is determined by the laws of physics. These market forces determine which of the players will get squeezed out if there is not enough to go around.

Non-elite workers play a pivotal role in this system because their number is so large. These people are the chief customers for goods, such as homes, food, clothing, and transportation services. They also play a major role in paying taxes, and in receiving government services.

History says that if there are not enough resources to go around, we can expect increasing wage and wealth disparity. This happens because increased use of technology and more specialization are workarounds for many kinds of problems. As an economy increasingly relies on technology, the owners and managers of the technology start receiving higher wages, leaving less for the workers without special skills. The owners and managers also tend to receive income from other sources, such as interest, dividends, capital gains, and rents.

When there are not enough resources to go around, the temptation is to use technology to replace workers, because this reduces costs. Of course, a robot does not need to buy food or a car. Such an approach tends to push commodity prices down, rather than up. This happens because fewer workers are employed; in total they can afford fewer goods. A similar downward push on commodity prices occurs if wages of non-elite workers stagnate or fall.

If wages of non-elite workers are lower, governments find themselves in increasing difficulty because they cannot collect enough taxes for all of the services that they are asked to provide. History shows that governments often collapse in such situations. Major defaults on debt are another likely outcome (Figure 3). Pension holders are another category of recipients who are likely to be “left out” when the game of musical chairs stops.

Figure 3 – Created by Author.

The laws of physics strongly suggest that if we are reaching limits of this type, the economy will collapse. We know that this happened to many early economies. More recently, we have witnessed partial collapses, such as the Depression of the 1930s. The Depression occurred when the price of food dropped because mechanization eliminated a significant share of human hand-labor. While this change reduced the price of food, it also had an adverse impact on the buying-power of those whose jobs were eliminated.

The collapse of the Soviet Union is another example of a partial collapse. This collapse occurred as a follow-on to the low oil prices of the 1980s. The Soviet Union was an oil exporter that was affected by low oil prices. It could continue to produce for a while, but eventually (1991) financial problems caught up with it, and the central government collapsed.

Figure 4. Oil consumption, production, and inflation-adjusted price, all from BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2015.

Low prices are often a sign of lack of affordability. Today’s oil, coal, and natural gas prices tend to be too low for today’s producers. Low energy prices are deceptive because their initial impact on the economy seems to be favorable. The catch is that after a time, the shortfall in funds for reinvestment catches up, and production collapses. The resulting collapse of the economy may look like a financial collapse or a governmental collapse.

Oil prices have been low since late 2014. We do not know how long low prices can continue before collapse. The length of time since oil prices have collapsed is now three years; we should be concerned.

Myth 2. (Related to Myth 1) If we wait long enough, renewables will become affordable.

The fact that wage disparity grows as we approach limits means that prices can’t be expected to rise as we approach limits. Instead, prices tend to fall as an increasing number of would-be buyers are frozen out of the market. If in fact energy prices could rise much higher, there would be huge amounts of oil, coal and gas that could be extracted.

Figure 5. IEA Figure 1.4 from its World Energy Outlook 2015, showing how much oil can be produced at various price levels, according to IEA models.

There seems to be a maximum affordable price for any commodity. This maximum affordable price depends to a significant extent on the wages of non-elite workers. If the wages of non-elite workers fall (for example, because of mechanization or globalization), the maximum affordable price may even fall.

Myth 3. (Related to Myths 1 and 2) A glut of oil indicates that oil limits are far away. 

A glut of oil means that too many people around the world are being “frozen out” of buying goods and services that depend on oil, because of low wages or a lack of job. It is a physics problem, related to ice being formed when the temperature is too cold. We know that this kind of thing regularly happens in collapses and partial collapses. During the Depression of the 1930s, food was being destroyed for lack of buyers. It is not an indication that limits are far away; it is an indication that limits are close at hand. The system can no longer balance itself correctly.

Myth 4: Wind and solar can save us.

The amount of energy (other than direct food intake) that humans require is vastly higher than most people suppose. Other animals and plants can live on the food that they eat or the energy that they produce using sunlight and water. Humans deviated from this simple pattern long ago–over 1 million years ago.

Unfortunately, our bodies are now adapted to the use of supplemental energy in addition to food. The use of fire allowed humans to develop differently than other primates. Using fire to cook some of our food helped in many ways. It freed up time that would otherwise be spent chewing, providing time that could be used for tool making and other crafts. It allowed teeth, jaws and digestive systems to be smaller. The reduced energy needed for maintaining the digestive system allowed the brain to become bigger. It allowed humans to live in parts of the world where they are not physically adapted to living.

In fact, back at the time of hunter-gatherers, humans already seemed to need three times as much energy total as a correspondingly sized primate, if we count burned biomass in addition to direct food energy.

Figure 6 – Created by author.

“Watts per Capita” is a measure of the rate at which energy is consumed. Even back in hunter-gatherer days, humans behaved differently than similar-sized primates would be expected to behave. Without considering supplemental energy, an animal-like human is like an always-on 100-watt bulb. With the use of supplemental energy from burned biomass and other sources, even in hunter-gatherer times, the energy used was equivalent to that of an always-on 300-watt bulb.

How does the amount of energy produced by today’s wind turbines and solar panels compare to the energy used by hunter-gatherers? Let’s compare today’s wind and solar output to the 200 watts of supplemental energy needed to maintain our human existence back in hunter-gatherer times (difference between 300 watts per capita and 100 watts per capita). This assumes that if we were to go back to hunting and gathering, we could somehow collect food for everyone, to cover the first 100 watts per capita. All we would need to do is provide enough supplemental energy for cooking, heating, and other very basic needs, so we would not have to deforest the land.

Conveniently, BP gives the production of wind and solar in “terawatt hours.” If we take today’s world population of 7.5 billion, and multiply it by 24 hours a day, 365.25 days per year, and 200 watts, we come to needed energy of 13,149 terawatt hours per year. In 2016, the output of wind was 959.5 terawatt hours; the output of solar was 333.1 terawatt hours, or a total of 1,293 terawatt hours. Comparing the actual provided energy (1,293 tWh) to the required energy of 13,149 tWh, today’s wind and solar would provide only 9.8% of the supplemental energy needed to maintain a hunter-gatherer level of existence for today’s population. 

Of course, this is without considering how we would continue to create wind and solar electricity as hunter-gatherers, and how we would distribute such electricity. Needless to say, we would be nowhere near reproducing an agricultural level of existence for any large number of people, using only wind and solar. Even adding water power, the amount comes to only 40.4% of the added energy required for existence as hunter gatherers for today’s population.

Many people believe that wind and solar are ramping up rapidly. Starting from a base of zero, the annual percentage increases do appear to be large. But relative to the end point required to maintain any reasonable level of population, we are very far away. A recent lecture by Energy Professor Vaclav Smil is titled, “The Energy Revolution? More Like a Crawl.”

Myth 5. Evaluation methods such as “Energy Returned on Energy Invested” (EROI) and “Life Cycle Analyses (LCA)” indicate that wind and solar should be acceptable solutions. 

These approaches are concerned about how the energy used in creating a given device compares to the output of the device. The problem with these analyses is that, while we can measure “energy out” fairly well, we have a hard time determining total “energy in.” A large share of energy use comes from indirect sources, such as roads that are shared by many different users.

A particular problem occurs with intermittent resources, such as wind and solar. The EROI analyses available for wind and solar are based on analyses of these devices as stand-alone units (perhaps powering a desalination plant, on an intermittent basis). On this basis, they appear to be reasonably good choices as transition devices away from fossil fuels.

EROI analyses don’t handle the situation well when there is a need to add expensive infrastructure to compensate for the intermittency of wind and solar. This situation tends to happen when electricity is added to the grid in more than small quantities. One workaround for intermittency is adding batteries; another is overbuilding the intermittent devices, and using only the portion of intermittent electricity that comes at the time of day and time of year when it is needed. Another approach involves paying fossil fuel providers for maintaining extra capacity (needed both for rapid ramping and for the times of year when intermittent resources are inadequate).

Any of these workarounds is expensive and becomes more expensive, the larger the percentage of intermittent electricity that is added. Euan Mearns recently estimated that for a particular offshore wind farm, the cost would be six times as high, if battery backup sufficient to even out wind fluctuations in a single month were added. If the goal were to even out longer term fluctuations, the cost would no doubt be higher. It is difficult to model what workarounds would be needed for a truly 100% renewable system. The cost would no doubt be astronomical.

When an analysis such as EROI is prepared, there is a tendency to leave out any cost that varies with the application, because such a cost is difficult to estimate. My background is in actuarial work. In such a setting, the emphasis is always on completeness because after the fact, it will become very clear if the analyst left out any important insurance-related cost. In EROI and similar analyses, there is much less of a tieback to the real world, so an omission may never be noticed. In theory, EROIs are for multiple purposes, including ones where intermittency is not a problem. The EROI modeler is not expected to consider all cases.

Another way of viewing the issue is as a “quality” issue. EROI theory generally treats all types of energy as equivalent (including coal, oil, natural gas, intermittent electricity, and grid-quality electricity). From this perspective, there is no need to correct for differences in types of energy output. Thus, it makes perfect sense to publish EROI and LCA analyses that seem to indicate that wind and solar are great solutions, without any explanation regarding the likely high real-world cost associated with using them on the electric grid.

Myth 6. Peer reviewed articles give correct findings.

The real story is that peer reviewed articles need to be reviewed carefully by those who use them. There is a very significant chance that errors may have crept in. This can happen because of misinterpretation of prior peer reviewed articles, or because prior peer reviewed articles were based on “thinking of the day,” which was not quite correct, given what has been learned since the article was written. Or, as indicated by the example in Myth 5, the results of peer reviewed articles may be confusing to those who read them, in part because they are not written for any particular audience.

The way university research is divided up, researchers usually have a high level of specialized knowledge about one particular subject area. The real world situation with the world economy, as I mentioned in my discussion of Myth 1, is that the economy is a self-organized networked system. Everything affects everything else. The researcher, with his narrow background, doesn’t understand these interconnections. For example, energy researchers don’t generally understand economic feedback loops, so they tend to leave them out. Peer reviewers, who are looking for errors within the paper itself, are likely to miss important feedback loops as well.

To make matters worse, the publication process tends to favor results that suggest that there is no energy problem ahead. This bias can come through the peer review process. One author explained to me that he left out a certain point from a paper because he expected that some of his peer reviewers would come from the Green Community; he didn’t want to say anything that might offend such a reviewer.

This bias can also come directly from the publisher of academic books and articles. The publisher is in the business of selling books and journal articles; it does not want to upset potential buyers of its products. One publisher made it clear to me that its organization did not want any mention of problems that seem to be without a solution. The reader should be left with the impression that while there may be issues ahead, solutions are likely to be found.

In my opinion, any published research needs to be looked at very carefully. It is very difficult for an author to move much beyond the general level of understanding of his audience and of likely reviewers. There are financial incentives for authors to produce PC reports, and for publishers to publish them. In many cases, articles from blogs may be better resources than academic articles because blog authors are under less pressure to write PC reports.

Myth 7. Climate models give a good estimate of what we can expect in the future.

There is no doubt that climate is changing. But is all of the hysteria about climate change really the correct story?

Our economy, and in fact the Earth and all of its ecosystems, are self-organized networked systems. We are reaching limits in many areas at once, including energy, fresh water, the number of fish that can be extracted each year from oceans, and metal ore extraction. Physical limits are likely to lead to financial problems, as indicated in Figure 3. The climate change modelers have chosen to leave all of these issues out of their models, instead assuming that the economy can continue to grow as usual until 2100. Leaving out these other issues clearly can be expected to overstate the impact of climate change.

The International Energy Agency is very influential with respect to which energy issues are considered. Between 1998 and 2000, it did a major flip-flop in the importance of energy limits. The IEA’s 1998 World Energy Outlook devotes many pages to discussing the possibility of inadequate oil supplies in the future. In fact, near the beginning, the report says,

Our analysis of the current evidence suggests that world oil production from conventional sources could peak during the period 2010 to 2020.

The same report also mentions Climate Change considerations, but devotes many fewer pages to these concerns. The Kyoto Conference had taken place in 1997, and the topic was becoming more widely discussed.

In 1999, the IEA did not publish World Energy Outlook. When the IEA published the World Energy Outlook for 2000, the report suddenly focused only on Climate Change, with no mention of Peak Oil. The USGS World Petroleum Assessment 2000 had recently been published. It could be used to justify at least somewhat higher future oil production.

I will be the first to admit that the “Peak Oil” story is not really right. It is a halfway story, based on a partial understanding of the role physics plays in energy limits. Oil supply does not “run out.” Peak Oilers also did not understand that physics governs how markets work–whether prices rise or fall, or oscillate. If there is not enough to go around, some of the would-be buyers will be frozen out. But Climate Change, as our sole problem, or even as our major problem, is not the right story, either. It is another halfway story.

One point that both Peak Oilers and the IEA missed is that the world economy doesn’t really have the ability to cut back on the use of fossil fuels significantly, without the world economy collapsing. Thus, the IEA’s recommendations regarding moving away from fossil fuels cannot work. (Shifting energy use among countries is fairly easy, however, making individual country CO2 reductions appear more beneficial than they really are.) The IEA would be better off talking about non-fuel changes that might reduce CO2, such as eating vegetarian food, eliminating flooded rice paddies, and having smaller families. Of course, these are not really issues that the International Energy Association is concerned about.

The unfortunate truth is that on any difficult, interdisciplinary subject, we really don’t have a way of making a leap from lack of knowledge of a subject, to full knowledge of a subject, without a number of separate, partially wrong, steps. The IPCC climate studies and EROI analyses both fall in this category, as do Peak Oil reports.

The progress I have made on figuring out the energy limits story would not have been possible without the work of many other people, including those doing work on studying Peak Oil and those studying EROI. I have also received a lot of “tips” from readers of OurFiniteWorld.com regarding additional topics I should investigate. Even with all of this help, I am sure that my version of the truth is not quite right. We all keep learning as we go along.

There may indeed be details of this particular climate model that are not correct, although this is out of my area of expertise. For example, the historical temperatures used by researchers seem to need a lot of adjustment to be usable. Some people argue that the historical record has been adjusted to make the historical record fit the particular model used.

There is also the issue of truing up the indications to where we are now. I mentioned the problem earlier of EROI indications not having any real world tie; climate model indications are not quite as bad, but they also seem not to be well tied to what is actually happening.

Myth 8. We don’t need religion; our leaders are all knowing and all powerful.

We are fighting a battle against the laws of physics. Expecting our leaders to win in the battle against the laws of physics is expecting a huge amount. Some of the actions of our leaders seem extraordinarily stupid. For example, if falling interest rates have postponed peak oil, then proposing to raise interest rates, when we have not fixed the underlying oil depletion problem, seems very ill-advised.

Everything I have seen indicates that there is a literal Higher Power governing our world economy. It is the Laws of Physics that govern the world economy. The Laws of Physics affect the world economy in many ways. The economy is a dissipative structure. Energy inputs allow the economy to remain in an “out of equilibrium state” (that is, in a growing state), for a very long period.

Eventually the ability of any economy to grow must come to an end. The problem is that it requires increasing amounts of energy to fight the growing “entropy” (higher energy cost of extraction, need for growing debt, and rising pollution levels) of the system. The economy must come to an end, just as the lives of individual plants and animals (which are also dissipative structures) must come to an end.

People throughout the ages have been in awe of how this system that provides growth works. We get energy from the sun. This solar energy helps grow our food. It allows the physical growth of humans. It allows the growth of ecosystems and of economies. Humans, ecosystems, and economies seem permanent, but eventually they all must collapse. In physics terms, they are all dissipative structures.

Humans have been in awe of the self-organizing property permitted by flows of energy for as long as humans have had the ability to think abstract thoughts. These flows allow a newly created whole to be greater than the sum of their parts. For example, babies start from a small beginning and mature into adults. Musical notes go together to form recognizable melodies. Physical movements go together to form dances. Awe for this phenomenon seems to be one of the origins of religion.

Another reason for religions is a need for hierarchical structure within an economy. We know that animal groups very often have “pecking orders.” Adding a god provides a convenient way of adding a “top level” to the pecking order. Of course, if leaders can convince members of the group that they are all knowing and that science can provide all of the answers, then the top level provided by religion is not needed.

A third reason for religions is to help align the thoughts of members in a particular way. Most of us are aware of the power of magnetized materials.

Figure 7. Source.

To some extent, the same power exists when the belief systems of groups of people can be aligned in the same direction. For example, teachers find it much easier to teach large groups of students, if parents have emphasized the importance of school and the need for respect for teachers. A military leader can attack another country, if soldiers follow orders. A group of generally uncivilized people can learn the benefit of working with others, if proper instruction is given.

What has been astounding to me, as I have looked into the situation, is that the scientific evidence seems to point in the direction of a literal Higher Power governing our Universe. It is not clear whether this higher power is the Laws of Physics, or whether it is some outside “God” that created the Laws of Physics.

In the past, many researchers assumed that the Universe was a closed energy system, irreversibly headed toward a cold, dark end. Recent research indicates that the Universe is ever-expanding, and in fact, seems to be expanding at an accelerating rate. While individual dissipative structures are constantly encountering more and more entropy, the universe as a whole is perhaps expanding rapidly enough to “outrun” growing entropy. Thus, it can behave as an always-open system. This always-open energy system allows many types of objects to self-organize and grow, at least for a time. These objects behave as dissipative structures, each having a beginning and an end.

We really don’t know whether the Universe had a beginning. Some research suggests that it did not. Others believe it began with a Big Bang.

Within the Universe, the earth seems extremely unusual. In fact, it is not clear that there is any other planet that has exactly the right conditions for complex life. A recent American Scientist article discusses this issue. The book Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe points out the huge number of coincidences that were necessary for complex life to form and flourish.

Within the Earth, and perhaps within the Universe as a whole, human economies are the most energy-dense form of structure found.

Figure 8. Image similar to ones shown in Eric Chaisson’s 2001 book, Cosmic Evolution: The Rise of Complexity in Nature.

Thus, in some sense, we humans and our economies may, in some sense, represent the current upper bound on development in the Universe.

We humans live on Earth. It is easy for us to think that our primary purpose in life is to care for and protect the Earth. Unfortunately, with our need for supplemental energy, this is not possible. Even at an early date, our need for resources exceeded what was sustainable. Joshua (in Joshua 17:14-18 relating to the period around 1400 BCE) instructs the tribes of Joseph to clear the trees from the hill country to have enough land for his tribe. This practice was clearly unsustainable; it would lead to erosion of the soil on hilltops. Even at that early date, high population and the need for resources to provide for this high population was conflicting with earth’s sustainability.

If our God is either the Laws of Physics, or some force giving rise to the Laws of Physics, then our God is really the God of the Universe. The limitations of the current Earth are no problem. God (or the Laws of Physics) could create a new Earth, or 1 million new Earths, if He chose to. Thus, from God’s point of view, it is not clear that there is any point to today’s environmentalism. There is a need not to poison ourselves, but “saving the earth” for other species after humans, or for a new set of humans who somehow will use much less energy, doesn’t make much sense. Humans can’t use much less energy; even if we could, our energy use would always be on an upward slope, headed to precisely where we are now.

There are many things that we can’t know for certain. Does this God want/expect us to worship him? Does this God plan an afterlife for some or all of the humans on Earth today? Obviously, if God (or the Laws of Physics) could create the Earth, God could also create other structures as well–possibly a “Heaven.” It is not clear to me that any one of today’s religions has a monopoly on insights regarding what is expected. A person might argue that we need not worry about religion at all, except for the fellowship it provides and the insights it offers regarding how early people coped with their difficulties.

Myth 9. The texts of religious groups around the world are literally true.

The texts of religious groups are true in the same sense that peer reviewed scientific literature is true. They represent, more or less, the best thinking of the day on a particular subject. This certainly does not mean that they are literally true.

We need to read religious texts in the context that they were written. In the earliest days, religious texts represented stories that people passed down from one generation to the next. These stories represented insights that these early people had gained. No one at that time was too concerned about authorship. If a story says, “God said,” it could also mean, “We think that this is something that God might have said.”

Literary styles were very different, back in an era before people pretended to have scientific knowledge. People created stories illustrating some aspect of a particular phenomenon. These stories were not supposed to fully describe what happened. This is why Genesis features two different creation stories.

The Bible makes liberal use of hyperbole and exaggeration. It is hard for people who are not familiar with the original language to understand how stories were intended to be interpreted. Is the concept of Hell added, primarily to provide a contrast to Heaven? In the Old Testament, the number of words in the ancient Hebrew language is much smaller than in today’s languages. This, by itself, makes direct translation difficult.

The earliest religious stories explained how God was perceived at that time. As people became more settled, their views changed. People were getting more “civilized.” Population densities were rising. The best beliefs in an early period may not have had relevance for a later period. This is why most religions have had reformers. Sometimes new writings are added. At other times, the way the writings are interpreted changes. This is why there seems to be a bizarre progression of stories from the Old Testament to the New Testament; new stories needed to be added to supplement and replace old ways of thinking.

Some of the things that early people discovered have not been understood by environmentalists. Genesis 1:28 says,

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

The early people had figured out that humans were indeed different from other animals and plants. Their use of supplemental energy gave them power over other creatures. Their numbers could (and indeed, did) increase. Early authors were documenting how the world really worked. We later humans have been too blind to see the real situation. It is more pleasant for us to think that somehow we are just like other animals, except perhaps smarter and more in control. With our greater knowledge, we could somehow have avoided an increase in our numbers, if we had only planned better. The laws of physics say this cannot happen; our higher energy use dictates who will win the battle for resources.

The early religious stories were not too different from Peak Oil and Climate Change. They were sort of right. They gave partial insight. They were the best the authors could do at the time.

The ancient religious documents could not tell the whole story at once. New groups would gradually add more insights to the developing story, providing a better understanding of what was truly important for people living in a later period.

Conclusion

In practice, people need a religion or a religion-substitute. People need a basic set of beliefs with which to order their lives.

Our leaders today have proposed the Religion of Success, with its belief in Science, and the power of today’s leaders, as the new religion. This religion has appeal, because it denies the limits we are up against. Life will continue, as if we lived on a flat earth with unlimited resources. This story is pleasant, but unfortunately not true.

Donald Trump, with his version of conservatism, presents another religion. This religion seems to be focused on justifying the allocation of wealth away from the poor, toward the rich, through tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy. This is part of the process of “freezing out” the poor people of the world, when there are not enough resources to go around.

It is hard for me to support Trumpism, even though I recognize that in the animal world, the expected outcome when there are not enough resources to go around is “survival of the best-adapted.” If our concern is leaving energy resources in the ground for future generations, transferring buying power from the poor to the rich is a way of collapsing the economy quickly, while considerable resources remain in the ground. The fact that wealthy people are favored ensures that at least some people will survive.

China and Japan both have what are close to state religions, created by their leaders. School children learn stories regarding what is important, based on what state leaders tell them. In Japan, school children visit religious sites, and learn the proper religious observances. They also learn rules about what is expected of them–always be polite; respect those in charge; don’t eat food on the street; never leave any food wrappers on the ground. In many ways, these religions are probably not too different from today’s Religion of Success.

I personally am not in favor of religions that originate from political groups. I would prefer the “old fashioned” religions based on ancient documents from one or another of the world’s religions. We are clearly facing a difficult time ahead. Perhaps early people had insights regarding how to deal with troubled times. Admittedly, we don’t know for certain that heaven can be in our future. But when things look bleak, it is helpful to see the possibility of a reasonable outcome.

Furthermore, religious groups offer the possibility of finding a group of like-minded individuals to make friends with. We need all of the support we can get as we go through troubled times.

About Gail Tverberg

My name is Gail Tverberg. I am an actuary interested in finite world issues - oil depletion, natural gas depletion, water shortages, and climate change. Oil limits look very different from what most expect, with high prices leading to recession, and low prices leading to financial problems for oil producers and for oil exporting countries. We are really dealing with a physics problem that affects many parts of the economy at once, including wages and the financial system. I try to look at the overall problem.
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939 Responses to Why political correctness fails – Why what we know ‘for sure’ is wrong

  1. I see we have another partly true Nature journal article. The article is aimed at making renewables seem better relative to fossil fuels. One problem I have with the article is whether the subsidies are really subsidies. Another is whether a subsidy to help natural gas compete with coal is really such a bad thing.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/oil-industry-subsidies_us_59d2a20fe4b065578154cbd9
    “The Oil Industry Needs Taxpayers to Prop Up Nearly Half of Its New U. S. Drilling”

    https://www.nature.com/articles/s41560-017-0009-8#Abs1
    “Effect of subsidies to fossil fuel companies on United States crude oil production”

    According to the Huffington Post article,
    “Forty-seven percent of discovered oil reserves that remained untapped by the middle of last year required subsidies to turn a profit with prices at about $50 per barrel, according to the research published Monday in the journal Nature.”

    I expect it is quite a bit more than 47% of oil companies that remain unprofitable at $50 per barrel.

    The article talks about several forms of subsidies. One of these, “write-offs for flared gas and elimination of royalties on this gas” would seem to make sense. A company would produce the gas, if it were profitable to do so. If the gas requires considerable processing and needs to be transported long distances, the cost would exceed the benefit.

    Another write-off is for locally produced gas used in extracting oil. This would be a good thing to encourage, IMO. If the company had to buy diesel to power its drilling rigs, it would be much more expensive than using locally produced gas. This purchased diesel would certainly be deductible. The write-off would also apply to locally produced oil used in extraction, but I don’t think that this happens in practice. There are two reasons (1) Oil is a much more valuable product, and (2) I don’t think that oil can be used for this purpose, without going through a refinery.

    The article talks about allowing “master limited partnerships.” These are used to encourage the building of natural gas pipelines, so that natural gas can better compete with coal. The availability of these subsidies makes it cheaper to build the natural gas pipelines. If this were not done, coal would be much more attractive. Also, the flaring of natural gas would happen more frequently.

    Regardless of the situation, I don’t think intermittent renewables are a solution. This is something taken for granted by the article.

    • ejhr2015 says:

      Subsidies will boom in the near future. In order to keep industry going with its jobs etc. the costs to build “stuff” like machines and equipment will need to be protected at home, not just outsourced to cheap wage countries. Energy will be subsidised. Wages will be subsidised. Id won’t help anyone if wages are below the poverty line. It’ll turn into a dependence industry if wages are not adequate.
      Subsidies do not come at taxpayer expense, any more than QE did. So someone in the government knows what is what!! Disaster relief is done the same way as well.

      • This is nonsense!

        Subsidies for wind and solar are driving out fossil fuels, by pushing prices of fossil fuels lower. This tends to lead to the whole system crashing.

        Subsidies for medical care means that the medical system grows uncontrollably, with far less than proportional improvement in health.

        QE is an attempt to do shift funds away from savers (pensions, insurance plans) toward asset holders and toward higher prices for commodities. It tends to make Pension Plans fail. It cannot continue forever. When its benefit stops, it tends to make the whole system crash.

  2. Fast Eddy says:

    Look at this utter rubbish….

    https://www.reuters.com/article/us-tesla-truck/tesla-in-production-hell-to-meet-model-3-deadline-elon-musk-idUSKBN1CB2NQ

    And tell me that — but when it comes to ggg wwww …Bloomberg is not full of sh it

    • This is the WSJ version of the story:
      https://www.wsj.com/articles/behind-teslas-production-delays-parts-of-model-3-were-being-made-by-hand-1507321057

      Unknown to analysts, investors and the hundreds of thousands of customers who signed up to buy it, as recently as early September major portions of the Model 3 were still being banged out by hand, away from the automated production line, according to people familiar with the matter.

      While the car’s production began in early July, the advanced assembly line Tesla has boasted of building still wasn’t fully ready as of a few weeks ago, the people said. Tesla’s factory workers had been piecing together parts of the cars in a special area while the company feverishly worked to finish the machinery designed to produce Model 3’s at a rate of thousands a week, the people said.

      Automotive experts say it is unusual to be building large parts of a car by hand during production. “That’s not how mass production vehicles are made,” said Dennis Virag, a manufacturing consultant who has worked in the automotive industry for 40 years. “That’s horse-and-carriage type manufacturing. That’s not today’s automotive world.”

      • J. H. Wyoming says:

        That’s bad news for Tesla, as they cannot get their numbers up unless it’s a smooth, streamlined assembly. These cars are not Aston Martin’s selling for $450,000. so they cannot afford to be putting them together by hand. This is the trouble with companies that try to do too much in too many different directions at one time. Better to concentrate on 1 part and get it down, then move on to colonizing Mars.

        • Fast Eddy says:

          Tesla is not a company …. if it were it would have collapsed into bankruptcy long ago…

          It is a fake company —- made to represent a dream of a renewable energy world with clear blue skies …. and people in pressed new designer clothes drinking organic fair trade beer dancing about a campfire signing Imagine …..and facebooking their friends telling them how awesome everything is…

          Organic stinky hippy meets techno hippy….

        • Davidin100millionbilliontrillionzillionyears says:

          “Better to concentrate on 1 part and get it down, then move on to colonizing Mars.”

          oh, no!

          if Tesla is not performing as promised…

          does that make it doubtful that Musk can colonize Mars?

          noooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

          say it ain’t so!

          humans MUST colonize Mars!

          we are destined to “go to the stars”!

  3. rgdjr says:

    Gail – Some friendly feedback here… I have a lot of respect for your past analyses and Web articles, but this one (26 Sep 17) is quite disjointed; it echoes, but in a vague and meandering way, your previous work with nothing new to show. [Realistically, they cannot all be gems though 🙂 . I say pull it.] I still look forward to reading your future posts.
    Also let’s not conflate extreme “political correctness” with common courtesy and respect for our fellow human beings. That’s one way to be contemptuous in a way that you profess to avoid. The planet is too small for that. Dissing the *original* PC motivation is one way to mask one’s own closet racism while pretending to be sophisticated. Obviously any movement can be, and is, carried to extremes by fools.

    • Closeted racism? Give me a break! Where are you getting that idea?

      Nothing new? That leads me to believe that you have not been reading my prior posts very closely. Some of these issue I have discussed in the comments, but not in posts.

      Political correctness conflated with common courtesy and respect for fellow human beings? What?

      What is the original PC motivation that you talk about? Isn’t it a “new religion” of sorts? What benefit do you see from it?

      I see you have connections to Stanford University. Do you have a different “religion” there?

      I seem to get comment on this post ranging from “Best ever” to this “friendly feedback.”

      • Artleads says:

        I’m not yet sure what rgdjr is trying to say. I definitely disagree with the tone of what s/he seems to be saying, but political correctness could also mean different things to different people.

    • Fast Eddy says:

      Yes shall we rant on about what to do about a person who has a c ock and a beard but wants to piss in the women’s bathroom —- meanwhile we blow the living shit out of entire countries…. murdering and ruining millions of people.

      Don’t get me wrong — I am all for the wrecking of countries to ensure the supply of cheap resources… and I would advise the person who is unsure where to take a piss… to use the disabled toilet.

      You think the world is too small for this now — you just hang around a bit longer…. it’s going to get a whole lot smaller when there is nothing to eat… and I dare say … you will not be concerned about being PC when someone sticks a knife in your gut — to get that last can of beans from your cupboard.

      F789 this PC bullshit. We’ve got bigger fish to fry

    • Artleads says:

      There are a lot of assumptions here that would take a long time to weed through, but I also wish the term “political correctness” was better explained.

  4. J. H. Wyoming says:

    https://www.usnews.com/news/top-news/articles/2017-10-06/las-vegas-shooter-used-real-estate-investments-to-fund-gambling-guns

    Ok, some of the conspiracy theories will now get laid to rest: the Las Vegas shooter used real estate investments to fund gambling & guns. Now that makes a whole lot more sense.

  5. PR says:

    So, people believe science will save them even as they deny scientists view on climate change. Sounds like Trump logic!

    • Davidin100millionbilliontrillionzillionyears says:

      but science surely will not save us.

      IC grew on abundant cheap fossil fuels, and IC will shrink as they decline.

      science has done amazing things, but can’t change the laws of physics.

      the world will be almost totally in poverty within a couple of decades.

      will you still be here?

      sounds like fun times.

      enjoy!

      ps: BAU tonight, baby!

    • I think you are mixing up two different groups. The people who believe science will save them (from energy problems) seem to be the same people who believe that the climate models are to fully believed. Climate is the new problem of the day, fully replacing the issue of energy limits, in their view.

    • doomphd says:

      the pretzel was invented by monks in the middle ages as a treat around Christmas time. it’s made by looping a long piece of dough onto a baking dish. loopy is another way of expressing some folk’s thought patterns or “logic”.

    • Fast Eddy says:

      Let me clarify what I believe:

      – we will burn record amounts of fossil fuels till the very last day of BAU – because we either burn or we collapse and die

      – man-caused GGG WWWW is invented to keep us from panicking over the fact that we are soon going to be burning no fossil fuels because what’s left is increasingly too expensive — most people understand the horrific implications of that so they MUST be distracted from those thoughts…. kinda like holding a string in front of the nose of a kitten with a large dog in the room …

      – Trump is also part of the distraction game — he was anointed as the final president of the USA because he is controversial, bombastic and divisive — this makes him extremely entertaining … and this keeps the Libtards and the Trumptards in a state of constant foaming at the mouth — and not thinking about the horrific situation that we are facing.

      I also believe that you are a first class id iot for posting that comment

      • Davidin100millionbilliontrillionzillionyears says:

        “– Trump is also part of the distraction game — he was anointed as the final president of the USA…”

        funny!

        first, Pence might be POTUS by 2018/2019.

        second, I’m sure almost no one else is predicting Trump as the last POTUS ever!

        CONGRATULATIONS!

        though you might be right in a 5 or so % chance kind of low probability.

        I doubt it, but we shall see in January 2021.

        and that is VERY SOON.

        • predicting el Trumpo to be the last POTUS is not as far fetched as you might think

          consider the current situation:

          The nation is held together by (cheap) energy availability–ie fuelpumps and supermarket shelves are full. (as long as that holds, people will remain quiescent to most political shenanigans.)

          but that situation can only exist if the energy flow remains as it is now, and improves. But it cannot improve, because it is a matter of record that world oil discoveries remain at 10% of use.

          Or—you spend ten times your annual income. Oil being the only income we have (in case anyone doesn’t quite get that)

          I’ve made that clear here:
          https://extranewsfeed.com/from-oilslick-to-tyranny-e35d04b31fc3

          There’s no room for discussion on it, that is what we face in (at most) the next decade.

          The crunch may come earlier than that, because we won’t just reach a calm ”end point” of consumption. We will see the oil termination coming, (fuel and food shortages) and begin to panic. Panic will lead to civil disorder, and civil disorder, once it hits a tipping point, will necessitate military intervention.

          The end of oil will mean that there can be no calm reversion to ”what was”, therefore violent insurrection will continue at varying levels in different regions. Blame will be inflamed by ignorance of the real situation, but martial law will be inevitable, and with it the suspension of the constitution (temporarily of course) .

          The POTUS in office will grab the powers of dictator.

          Without oil to restore and maintain a balanced lifestyle for the majority, the conventional business of government cannot continue, because the wheels of government are oiled by commerce.—without oil, we have no commerce, and thus no future security of the government services we take for granted…pensions, schools, hospitals and so on. (even the office of POTUS itself.)

          so yes, soon there will be a ”last” potus. whether it is this one, or the next one is hard to say, but there cannot be many more because there will be no energy to support one.
          My thinking leads to a dictatorship, of the theo-fascist variety. I want to be shown to be wrong.

          • Davidin100millionbilliontrillionzillionyears says:

            thanks, Norman.

            actually, we both might be right.

            I see low +-5% chance of Trump being the last one.

            you’re saying this one, next one, hard to say, can’t be many more.

            our views are not mutually exclusive.

            “I want to be shown to be wrong.”

            only time can do that.

            the 2020’s will be an “interesting” decade.

      • DJ says:

        If the world would collapse one day past peak fossile fuel, why fabricate RE/EV/AI/Mars? Better to invent abiotic oil.

        RE/EV/AI/Mars is more logic if BAU can (or PTB believe it) limp along for a while with declining oil. Sacrifices we make to save the planet.

        • Fast Eddy says:

          The problem with abiotic oil is that only the very very profoundly stuuuupid could believe in that….

          Because there is plenty of evidence of oil wells abandoned … because there was no oil remaining.

          • Fast Eddy says:

            That said… we do get stories about abiotic oil … we also get stories about energy self-sufficiency from capturing frozen methane from beneath the sea…. thorium pops up from time to time ….

            This is all based on the ‘irons in the fire’ theory — or the ‘throw enough shit at the wall and some will stick’ theory of success….

  6. Fast Eddy says:

    Elon … is this you?

    Years ago in hospital i was sat on the toilet in the ward, & i had a deep & clear realisation that i was Jesus. i challenged it all & decided that i wasn’t.

    During my first episode for a short while i also had the same experience for an afternoon. i have at various times believed that i am the reincarnation of St Paul, the Creator of the Universe, the Devil & the anti-Christ. There has been a lot of religious themed delusions.

    Read more: http://healingsanctuary.proboards.com/thread/381/thoughts-jesus#ixzz4uszAxnQG
    http://healingsanctuary.proboards.com/thread/381/thoughts-jesus

    • A Real Black Person says:


      “In 2008 during one of my earlier psychosis episodes i was ‘getting’ that i was mother Mary & my son was Jesus. Luckily for me at that time, i was not too ‘lost’ & was able to see how all females could be viewed as mother Mary & all males could be viewed as Jesus.”

      • Davidin100millionbilliontrillionzillionyears says:

        why did God tell his parents to name him Jesus?

        it’s a Greek name.

      • jazIntico says:

        That’s why Arab and Moslem women wear the hijab – to hide their beard. They sprout thick pubic hair between their toes too – it looks disgusting.

        • xabier says:

          An Arab family friend always used to maintain that all Arab women were lesbians, which is why he just had to chase after English blondes.

          At art school, he was amazed that most of the other students – Brits – seemed to more interested in their motor bikes than girls in mini-skirts.

          • jazIntico says:

            “An Arab family friend always used to maintain that all Arab women were lesbians”

            Possibly out of necessity. Izlam has such a low view of women, that few of the men desire them and look elsewhere instead.

            Well, art school attracts higher proportions of minorities, of course.

  7. Fast Eddy says:

    “We are unable to post your comment because you have been banned by Post Carbon Institute. Find out more’

    I guess Richard could take only so much….

  8. Fast Eddy says:

    Another Update from the Fast Eddy is a Global Hero and Saviour Endless Rave Party….

    Apparently another Koombaya Groopie has abandoned Elon’s camp and declared her allegiance to Fast Eddy… lets take a look at the newest member of the Fast Eddys entourage:

  9. A Real Black Person says:

    Power growth or Exponential Growth?

    I just came across a claim that says the rate of population growth has not been exponential, and that exponential population growth was in fact “a power growth” that occurred for a brief time in the first half of the twentieth century. Can anyone confirm if there is any truth to these statements?
    I know that the rate of human population growth has gone down, overall, in the last 50 years, but the doubling time for human population keeps getting shorter.

    What am I or the person who made the claim missing?

    • A Real Black Person says:

      With all the science and math literate people who visit here, I thought someone would be eager to reply.

      • Kenny Starfighter says:

        What does power growth mean? As long as the population on average has more children than people dying, which would be 2.1 children per woman, I would say the population is always exponentially growing. The rate can be lower, but it will still be exponential.

        • A Real Black Person says:

          As far as I know power growth and exponential growth are the same thing.

          The guy who put forward the claim is known for being a psudeoscentist who is better known for his theory that Steve Hawking has died and has been replaced because Hawkings has lived way too long for someone who has been diagnosed with ALS.

  10. MG says:

    Why women are more religious?

    The economists say this:

    https://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2016/04/economist-explains-7

    I say:

    Women are more dependent on external energy, the man as an energy source for woman.

    “25Near the cross of Jesus stood His mother and her sister, as well as Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27Then He said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” So from that hour, this disciple took her into his home.”

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