The End of the Industrial Revolution


What a privilege it is to be alive in these times, in such a significant period in human history. It’s not always easy to see moments of great historical importance when you’re in the middle of them. Sometimes they’re dramatic, like the fall of the Berlin Wall or the landing on the moon. But more often the really big ones appear, from within them, to be unfolding in slow motion. Their actual drama and speed then only becomes clear in hindsight.

That’s how it will be with this. But in the end we’ll look back at this moment and say, yes, that’s when it was clear, that’s when the end game began. The end game of the industrial revolution.

Hang on, you’re thinking. The industrial revolution? With its belching smokestacks, dirty industry and steam engines? You thought we left that behind long ago, right? You look at your smart phone, robots on Mars, the rise of Facebook and Google and think ‘we’re well past all that’. Isn’t this the age of knowledge, when we’re all hyper-connected in a 24/7 information rich economy? Think again.

Hiding behind those entertaining devices, information overload and exciting new companies, the real bulk of the economy is still being driven by those dirty belching smokestacks and is still being shaped by those who inherited the economic momentum of 19th century England – the coal, oil and gas industries. Look at any list of the world’s 20 largest companies by turnover and you’ll see around three quarters are either producing fossil fuels, trading them or converting them into transport or energy. So I’m afraid the proverbial belching smokestacks still underpin our economy. But they are now in terminal decline. Yes, after 250 years, their time is coming to an end – and faster than you, or they, think.

For those of us focused on social change, it doesn’t get much more exciting than this. When I was writing my book The Great Disruption during 2010, and even when it was published just a year ago, the ideas in it were still fringe to the mainstream debate – a radical and provocative interpretation of what was happening. Most thought my argument – that a crisis driven economic transformation was inevitable – were, if correct, certainly not imminent and would not impact for decades. Just two years later, we only have to look around to see the disruption underway, as the old economy grinds to a halt, and the incredible opportunity for change that is now all around us.

It’s going to be a wild and exhilarating ride, with winners and losers, crises and breakthroughs. There’ll be a fair amount of chaos and we’ll teeter on the edge for a while, wondering if we’ll get through. But we will, and we’ll then look back to this time and say, yes, I was there.  I was there when the third great wave of human progress began. The first was the domestication of plants and animals, enabling what we today see as civilisation to form. The second was the industrial revolution with its great technological and human progress but inherent unsustainability because it depended on taking energy from the past and ecological capacity from the future.

Now we shift to the third great wave, the world post the industrial revolution. To an economy designed to last, that is built around the present and nurtures the future. This will be an era where we…… well, that’s the exciting bit. We get to decide what comes next. We get to decide what the third great phase of human progress looks like.

Like many, I feel a great impatience sitting here on the edge of it all. Waiting for it to be clear to everyone that it’s time to stop pretending the old models will somehow get back to normal. We lurch from crisis to crisis, but never seem to face up to the reality that old normal is gone, that step change is now our only option. I’m not alone in that impatience. The legendary investment manager Jeremy Grantham recently said “The economic environment seems to be stuck in a rather unpleasant perpetual loop. ……I, for one, wish that the world would get on with whatever is coming next.”

The world actually is getting on with it, at an incredible pace, but building the momentum of the new takes time. And perhaps of more immediate concern, the dismantling of the old economy and the decline of the fossil fuel industry is being fiercely resisted by those who own it. To be fair, you can’t really blame them. I can’t imagine I’d take kindly to everything I assumed about the world being proven wrong and all my success now being blamed for the potential collapse of civilization. Denial and delay would be quite appealing!

But none of that really matters because the end of their world is going to happen regardless of anything they do. You can buy your way to political influence but you can’t buy new laws of physics. So we will change, not because of any great moral battle between good and evil, but because people and economics will respond to physical limits – the limits of the climate’s capacity to absorb our waste, the limits of our food production to keep pace with our demand, the limits of living on one planet.

Thus the need to act is no longer just a moral imperative, it’s now a social and economic necessity.

I will over forthcoming Cockatoo Chronicles unpack this argument in more detail, explore how this is unfolding around us, and why we should be excited rather than fearful. I realise many people look at the world events and feel fear – I certainly have those days. After all, as was argued in a recent oped in the NYT by US scientists: “There can be little doubt that what was once thought to be a future threat is suddenly, catastrophically, upon us.”

But when we look at the current US drought, at what is looking like the third global food crunch in just 5 years, and the extraordinary increases in the melt rates of arctic sea ice, all happening along side debt overload and the endless, lurching economic crises that Jeremy Grantham refers to, you can respond in two ways.  Yes, these things are cause for great concern, reasons to worry about the suffering that is now and will keep unfolding around us.

But they also say, with clarity and finality, the old economic model is dead. This is not a crisis, there will be no “return to normal”. This is the old world, the world that started in 1750 with the industrial revolution and the assumption that more stuff was all we needed for progress, steadily grinding to a halt.  The great economic expansion that drove us through the 19th and 20th centuries, is all but over. Over because it’s physically impossible for it to keep going. This is not philosophy. When things are unsustainable, they stop.

This process is going to be very messy. The climate is becoming highly unstable. The fossil fuel industry is going to fight a ferocious rear guard battle to hold on to the old ways. There is an incredible consolidation of wealth and power by the rich. And the economy is facing intolerable debt and financial pressures.

With the earth full, we are now trapped between debt and growth. If we grow, then spiking prices of oil, food and other commodities, along with ecological constraints will bring down the economy as they did in 2007/8. Yet our impossible levels of debt can only be paid off if we grow. Given we can’t, the financial system will soon break again and this time even more dramatically.

But we can no longer prevent any of those things – they are todays’ reality.  What we can do, and what will have the most impact on that situation, is to accelerate the process of dismantling the old and building the new. It is true that all the changes we need to make happen, would occur by themselves over time. But because ecosystem breakdown is driven by lagging causes – the impact keeps happening long after the pollution that caused it – we don’t have time. This makes acceleration the key challenge.  Within that context there is much we can do

For a start, we can slow down the last gasp expansion of the coal, oil and gas industries. This is a significant question because the carbon budget is nearly all spent. As Bill McKibben recently argued, the science is now very clear that we have a choice – we either face an out of control climate that will decimate society and the economy or we can rapidly remove those industries from the economy. There is no middle path. And the later we start, the more pain there will be.

We can also drive even harder, the incredibly exciting growth in solar. We can encourage investors to shift from the old to the new. We can implore governments to tax stuff more and people less. We can build a new economy that is focused on creating jobs and good lives for people, rather than bonuses for investment bankers and profits for oil companies. We can drive down inequality, a cancer that is now eating away at democracy and social stability.

Just a decade ago, the call to invest in this new economy was driven by the moral imperative or long-term economic benefit. Today it’s up and running, and is looking more like a sprint than a marathon – a sprint any investors who don’t see it underway will lose.

Solar is perhaps the most immediate and exciting example, with enormous investment now flowing. As Giles Parkinson explains in a recent article at it’s hardly a surprise. In many countries, you can now get solar on your rooftop with payments 20% less than your current electricity bill, while still leaving enough for strong profits by those installing and financing the systems. It’s an easy business proposition to understand and as a result, investors are piling in to the space. They look at the risks in fossil fuels with the inevitability of tightening regulation on carbon, then compare it to solar and see annual growth rates there of around 40% and dramatic and ongoing cost reductions. (The total cost of a rooftop solar system has fallen over 20% in the last year and the cost of solar panels fell around 50%!) So it’s no surprise that last year we saw another new record for the amount invested in renewables – over $250 billion. It’s now up over 90% since the start of the financial crisis in 2007. (How much proof do we need that there’s a new world coming?)

There are many other examples of such progress – too many to cover here. So this longer piece is the first in a series of Cockatoo Chronicles that will explore the great economic transformation now underway. I’ll be discussing more about the solar boom, along with the inevitable crash of the carbon bubble – with its potentially dramatic consequences for fossil companies’ share prices and some national economies. Another area of focus will be the food supply crunch and its implications for conflict and national security but also the economic opportunity for sustainable food production. I’ll also write about the emerging battle between the fossil fuel industry on one side and scientists, environmentalists and the renewables industry on the other. Clear battle lines have been drawn in recent months suggesting a heavily ramped up and economically sophisticated conflict is now emerging.

Sure, there’s plenty to worry about in what’s coming and we should do all we can to smooth the way for 7 billion people to get through this transition. But we must remember, we’re now over the top of the mountain. It’s a long way down and it will certainly be a wild and bumpy ride, but history is on our side and the momentum will take us through. So let’s celebrate and remember – we are privileged to be here now, to be the ones who shape the future. And amidst the chaos and crises, let’s keep our eye on the prize – the third great wave of human progress.



73 thoughts on “The End of the Industrial Revolution

  1. Keith mackrell

    I look forward to your developing argument.I take it that you are aware of Professor Stephen Emmot and his successful show at the Royal Court Theatre. I see the possibility of reaching solutions in time less in terms of your struggle between the fossil fuel and renewable forces but more in terms of achieving new economic and political models which give the transition signals required.Leslie Dighton and I with others are exploring means of developing and implementing the new required Rules of the Game.
    Keep in touch,

  2. John Poussart

    Hey Paul good your Back.
    In the meanwhile i read some books from Lester R. Brown, Tim Jackson and Richard Heinberg

    And i must say they are all on the same path with you so hopefully more and more people wil pick up this and start reading en take action


  3. Hi Paul
    I wish I could share your optimism. I see the signs of change all around like you and the gathering momentum. But I also see the increasingly urgent natural warning signs screaming too little, too late.

    In the 20 or so nations where the battle will be won or lost people would, I believe, accept some degree of sacrifice for the sake of their future despite the small minded selfishness that seems to be abroad. But the politicians are in large measure hostage to massive entrenched economic interest and enlightened political leadership is in short supply. If you believe Robert Manne the deniers have won the day.

    Ah well, someone wise once said that right intention and right action are important steps on the path to enlightenment, that regret is an unproductive emotion and that we shouldn’t get too attached to the fruits of our actions. So for the sake of our own development as individuals, as well as for the sake of our collective future, we must keep pushing for the outcomes we know to be right. But I’m starting to get old and it is it is hard Paul, and often difficult not to despair. So as I began by saying I wish I had your optimism.

  4. Ib Jørgensen

    Hi Paul
    We are hearing a lot about the increasing extraction of shale gas in the US. How will this affect the transition to renewable energy? And what are other consequences of this development?

  5. LC

    I applaud the work you’re doing and I’m in full (and excited, optimistic) agreement with your assessment of what’s happening and what WILL happen. I agree that we’re on the cusp of a new and unimaginably exciting paradigm for humanity because of the unstainability of the old ways. The question is, what can we–what can I–do to facilitate that change? I’m don’t work in an industry that furthers those changes, not in manufacturing, not in renweable resources, not in climate change–not in any of the arenas with a direct impact on the changes that are unfolding. I want to DO something rather than read about other people who are doing something. What can I DO?

  6. Mikas

    Paul, I was about to write you an email asking – how can I help in startup part? I deeply agree everything you write, except one thing and that scares me a lot – how to avoid business as usual few decades from now? What kind food/services/comunication business to start, that will not support old ways of doing things (because I have to admit, that I’m still very much brainwashed about whats write/wrong).

  7. Good to hear from you Paul – strongly recommend you read Richard Duncan’s latest book, focussed on a very helpful, understandable critique of global economics (to have real clout, we greenies need to understand these issues much better) and concluding with a set of economic solutions you’ll be pleased to see.. enjoy!,descCd-buy.html
    “…Simply put, nobody understands the causes and effects of the crisis better than Duncan. The book should be required reading for anyone in public office these days.” ”
    —Izabella Kaminska, FT Alphaville

    ““…Richard Duncan’s view is particularly relevant at present when private sectors in so many countries are faced with seriously impaired balance sheets… a failure to implement Richard Duncan’s fiscal policy recommendations may well result in an unnecessary implosion of the world economy” ”
    —Richard Koo, Chief Economist, Nomura Research Institute Tokyo

  8. Donna

    Hi Paul,

    I, too, was wondering when I’d see the Cockatoo Chronicles again… Glad you’re back and in full agreement with what you’re saying. Hope you had a chance to read my recommendation – Not Two IS Peace – more on the spiritual side of these issues, and also in agreement with your writings. Take care – Donna

  9. Kris

    Thanks Paul great to hear from you again. Love your ongoing optimistic outlook . I know it wont be an comfortable journey but reacting to it with fear and inaction wont achieve anything (other than fear & inaction). We can all strive in ways both small & large (within ourselves and outside ourselves) to make a shift happen. What a challenge. Thanks again look forward to hearing more inspirational information!

  10. About time you picked us up with some serious proof points for optimism. I totally buy the solar story, and admonish myself almost daily that I really didn’t believe it would get so good so fast – and me a child of the Sunshine State and all. But please don’t overlook the amazing pay-for-itself energy efficiency story that is about explode as we make the internet of things a reality, and break the old utility model forever!

  11. Joe garofalo

    “Things are getting Better and Better, Worse and Worse…Faster and Faster”.
    The dialectic of Progress is always Good news/Bad News..where the problems/issues of one level of Development cause, at least in a small leading edge of the populace a rise in Consciousness. To paraphrase Einstein — the level of consciousness that creates a problem can never be the one to fix it, you need a higher ordinate thinking. Thank you Paul for your Realistic assements and your continued optimism.

  12. Russ Day

    Paul – good article. Twenty years ago we installed a solar hot water system on the roof. Eight years ago we began installing solar voltaic. Now it’s all paid for. We’ve been waiting all this time for the inevitable collapse of the current capitalistic system that has depleted the ‘solar’ energy in the earth. I agree that we are witnessing the beginning of the end. Keep up the good work. Russ

  13. Sören Andersson

    Thank you Paul, nice to read the chronicle again.
    A year ago or so I listened to you at a meeting here in Helsingborg, Sweden.
    I still remember your answer to a student asking;
    – For me being eighteen entering the grown-up world in the middle of this comotion, what’s your advice?
    – Try already today, to live the way you belive it will be after the great disruption….
    I couldn’t agree with you more, and I think that is a great way to keep your mind sound and actually speed up the transition.
    I am already looking forward to your next article!
    Any chance seeing you up here in the north hemisphere soon?

  14. Jack W. Scott

    Thank you Paul, for a perceptive literary work, it is quite similar to my thinking about all these things. Yes, Solar is the main part of our society’s future. 20 or 30 years from now, dictated by people simply doing what is in their own better interest, our children and grandchildren (I have four little grandchildren) will be living on easy street, powered by cheap, abundant energy from Solar Panels and natural gas. Yes, but, as you say, getting there may be a little rough, we’re probably starting to pass through “peak oil”, and our oceans and weather are getting in pretty rough shape. However, we CAN start to borrow on this glorious future we predict, like a 30 year mortgage, many investments yield cash now for payment later. Later being when the world economy has recovered and is steaming along quite nicely! Notice for a good, popular web-site that publishes the truth about environmentalist issues.

  15. RS

    It’s obvious we need a new economy paradigm but the real issue is what kind of political hierarchy will drive such a static non growth economy.
    If you look at the USA they prepare for at least a decade to establish a security infrastructure for the projected/planned future. Their elite knows there isn’t enough for everybody to live on an agreeable life standard so after the current fascist stage they’ll go for neo-feudalism to rule over a such economy with them as the new aristocracy.
    They apparently think they have the technology to suppress any serious opposition. FEMA camps for 20Million people and the massive ammunition orders this year by Homeland Security show the signs.

    While you’re so focused on the technological/resources side, the society changes this will cause have a high risk of major civil conflicts we haven’t seen since the 192x. They better be discussed openly now before its been taken out of the hands of the common people.

  16. Bring it on! Not a very eloquent response perhaps, but economics is not my forte. However, any fool can recognise the writing on the wall. I’m glad we have someone around who does understand the economics and also the leadership and thought processes we’ll have to go through to get where we’re going. Another great article, doing my best towards spreading the word and working towards a better, brighter, solar illuminated future.

  17. Patrick

    Paul. Thank you. You state, “We get to decide what comes next. We get to decide what the third great phase of human progress looks like.”
    Over the years I have been thinking and working in the environment/sustainability area, I have come to see just this. We came to this place by ‘accident’ so to speak. No-one designed the society we live in; no-one ever sat down some time in history and worked out what the world in 2012 should/could look like.
    Our world is different. We are the first generation to have a world view that acknowledges the existence and negative outcomes of our flawed systems, behaviours and institutions. We now, as you say, have the opportunity to create something lasting and ‘sustainable’ in the truest sense we understand.
    Thank you. Regards

  18. Darryl Restall

    Great article Paul.
    Wouldn’t it be great if this was mandatory reading for our politicians. These are the issues that they should be debating in parliament house!

  19. Great piece although not surprising at all! This does seem to be a pivotal point in modern history and, who knows, maybe in a few years time, we will all wonder what the fuss was about!

  20. Steve

    Hi Paul – I too was waiting patiently for your next installment. I really enjoyed your book but since I have also read Daniel Yergin’s “The Quest” and no longer believe in “Peak Oil”. One of the reasons is “Shale Gas” mentioned in a comment above but basically so many reasons in the book and in general press that to me, believing in “Peak Oil” is like being a Climate sceptic. Too much hard evidence to the contrary and hence while I agree with your article, I cannot share your optimism on the speed of change.

  21. Danyelle Guyatt

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Paul. It seems we need a mechanism to convey the public support for low carbon transformation that doesn’t get blocked through the usual media channels.

    As you know, in Australia and the US gas is the coal replacement taking place despite our best efforts. The miners find the break even of gas more attractive than renewables and gas is more likely to provide our base energy needs before renewables will. This is better than coal but still away off the world that you describe. The economics once again dictate where the capital is invested, not us.

    Yours in anguish, Dr Danyelle Guyatt, Investment Manager at an Australian pension fund.

  22. Judy Belle Halgren


    I read your article and was interested to hear you feel the Industrial Revolution is about to end. ON WITH THE NEW.

    I am reading, “The Race For What’s Left: the Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources” by Michael T. Klare. I think you would be interested. This book is very powerful and makes you aware of what humanity needs to focus on in the next decades. A must read.

    Take Care.

  23. Joan Halgren

    Paul, your optimistic summary is welcome, and I look forward to learning the details regarding the issues you plan to cover in the weeks ahead. Hopefully, you can share facts that will help derail some of the nonsense policy ideas being thrown around in the current U.S. presidential race: Today candidate Romney announced his horrid energy plan today that strictly focuses on escalating fossil fuels so Americans don’t have to rely upon other nations’ resources while totally ignoring the climate. He made his announcement outdoors with the wind blowing his hair and educational chart! Very funny. So, indeed, we have a nasty fight on our hands in the U.S. as you allude to in your article visa vi mentioning the power broker battles to come.

    From a historical perspective, you are also correct in seeing positive change that is swiftly moving forward albeit it may seem turtle-like some days for those, like us, who embrace a new paradigm.

    Finally, for those wishing to help turn the tide, there’s advocacy work for numerous groups and we can all find personal ways to push the envelope forward. After almost a decade of painful endeavors to forge a brighter future, I’ve enrolled in an exciting agricultural sustainability program being offered at Central Carolina Community College in North Carolina. It’s thrilling to see young people learning about how to safely, carefully care for our planet–saving ‘heritage’ livestock et al.It’s a totally heart warming experience that I wish everyone could share with me!

    Glad you mentioned Grantham–he’s got his eyes wide open–cannot say the same for Buffet or Gates whose mouths water over the prospects of fracking for shale gas in Canada! But they can still learn:)

    Take care–you’ve got my back.

  24. Kelly Green

    Another great read from the most sensible man on the planet, thanks Paul. I so admire your continuing positive outlook, it is heartening to hear your words.
    Take care and keep up the good work.

  25. Chuck Huddleston

    I feel change coming faster and worry that the talk is still mostly about energy; as if all we need to do is change that and we can keep living as we do. We can’t, and there will be no economic rebound, and our ship won’t be coming in either.

    We are all going to be living more simply and working more, for less, if we are going to live at all.

    So I’ll say this about simplicity: it isn’t getting rid of everything you don’t care about, it is getting rid of everything you do care about. The time of caring for things is over. It is time to care for life. Do this and your life and what you need will remain.

  26. Keith Chappell

    Hi Paul ,appreciate your positivity in the face of all this forthcoming,although I have to note that with his ,should I say more organic perspective , that Guy McPherson on Nature Bats Last , comes to a more realistic conclusion as to where this is all likely to end,yours in despair.

  27. Roger Hawkins

    Hi Paul, Good to read your current thinking. You provide further confirmation regarding all that I have been reading… Ted Trainer, Keith Farnish, Guy McPherson, Samuel Alexander, Simon Ussher, Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein. In fact I have just finished reading David Holmgren’s “Retrofitting the Suburbs For the Energy Decent Future” really worth a read as the paper resonated and describes a practical way forward! Keep up the great work. Might even bump into you some time I hear you are living reasonably close by.

  28. Chris Chatteris

    Thanks Paul. Just pulled a battered, yellowing copy of Fritjof Capra’s The Turning Point, off my shelves. His final chapter is entitled, rather elegantly, The Passage to the Solar Age. The paperback came out in 1982! What on earth have we been doing for 30 years?

  29. Simon

    Thank you Paul. Having myself been part of the unthinking mass who bought into our modern mythos of Western Society greatness and perpetual growth, it’s taken me a couple of years of hard reading/learning to unlearn lots of nonsense and to now have a much better mental construct of how human endeavours, hopes/dreams all depend on Energy available in the system and the limits imposed by the Laws of Thermodynamics on a finite system.

    For a while I was a bit despondent but remembered we still must shape what’s to come and that gives me hope.

    I have teenage children starting high school. Am persistently trying to get them to expand their mental construct of the system they exist in and the best leverage points they can learn about so they can create a future they are satisfied with. As anyone with children that age knows, is very hard to make see beyond the self and their smartphone screens and expecting their future to be much like our recent pass.

    Am happy I’ve made in-rows and continue to. Now the wife is a much more slow undertaking :)
    Your book/posts have helped a lot.

  30. “a wild and exhilarating ride…” Huh?

    Paul, I admire your optimism, and maybe it will help to keep us going, but I think it’s misplaced. First, you have predicted a disruption (catastrophe?) with loss of life on a scale comparable with the plagues of the 14th century. Secondly, I agree that somewhere in the next 40 – 50 years CO2 emissions will decrease – probably as a result of major economic collapse.

    However, our problem is not only with the continuing and accelerating emissions, but with what is already up there. As of this moment, if emissions ceased today, we would be committed to warming approximately double that which we now, presently, have with us.

    So: more floods, more drought less food (check the World Food Price Index) and more movement of distressed people. I have calculated the effect on atmospheric CO2 of coal-based and other emissions, out to 2035, based on the EIA data. The data indicate that we will have 450ppmv in the atmosphere – and that is without taking account of the outgassing of the E.Siberian ice shelf and the tundra, the accelerated warming of the Arctic Ocean as the ice cover melts.

    So what to do? My answer: stop being polite, start yelling, get out onto the street. Make the politicians listen and act. Now. Oh, and buy a five acre plot in tasmania or NZ (S.island) Or Oregon. Teach the kids to be resilient.

    And stop using phrases like ‘exhilarating’ to describe the mess that capitalist greed has got us into.

    PS You will find the calculations for 2035 CO2 on my website, on the Issues/CO2 page

  31. Hi paul, Thoughtful piece. I agree that you can’t beat the laws of physics so in the long run your vision or something like it, is likely to be achieved. Until that time the denial bastards will continue to inflict (future) damage on our heirs and successors. So as the wars in the public domain and the economy are bound to continue. Perhaps this is part of the economically sophisticated conflict you believe is now emerging.

  32. Andrew Paterson

    Great to hear from you again Paul, and such a compellingly articulated article. You must be so encouraged to see so many constructive responses.

    In confronting the perceived monolith of entrenched power and vested interest, wondering how we can ever win against such daunting odds, I am always reminded of the USSR, the ‘Iron Curtain’, and the Berlin Wall… which seemed imovable at the time… and then almost overnight imploded.

    The truth of course is that they always were exponential phenomina and – like all exponential developments – had a long (almost imperceptible) lead up (thanks to the courage and sacrifice of a few brave souls) which finally and rapidly exploded, suddenly going vertical, and then collapsing.

    So it will be with the forces of the dying ‘Industrial Revolution’ fighting to protect their massive fossil fuel (and associated) empires… my conviction is that the exponentially growing number of aware people will soon reach critical mass, at which time the shift to a new order will manifest in a heartbeat – similar to the analogy you draw in “Great Disruption”, when at the beginning of WW2, the country changed virtually overnight.

    Exciting times indeed !!!

    Look forward to the next Cockatoo Chronicle.

  33. Brian Taylor

    Big Coal and Oil will continue to expand since the owners and state beneficiaries will never countenance a drop in shareholder value or living standards on their watch. An ever increasing CO2 level is guaranteed under today’s (broken) economic model. No one alive today will voluntarily cut back their standard of living by any meaningful amount so pollution reduction by altruism won’t cut it.
    As I see it there is only one path to CO2 reduction and that is population reduction. Very few people want to talk about it but a human infertility virus that affects 95% of all living today would be a painless and humane solution. Far better than waiting for bird flu, ebola or hendra virus to mutate and send billions to their agonising death.
    A reduced population leads to reduced fossil fuel use from which the planet gets a breather.

  34. Ed Deak

    Paul, I hate to mention but I have covered all this in my “Principle for the application of physical efficiency to economics”, copyrighted to establish the date, in 1991. Also have written hundreds of articles in the Gold River Record on this subject and 7 years of “comments” on the Tyee.

    Nevertheless, I`m very pleased to see more people waking up to the crime wave .committed in the fraudulent name of “economics”, basically to satisfy the demands of the deregulated creation of imaginary money , used as weapon of colonization, destruction and enslavement, with phony monetary figures used to distort physical realities and change the dimensions of trading goods.

    The reasons for the tragedies of history and of the present can be covered in two sentences:

    “Wealth is the temporary control of energy”

    “Wealth can not be created only taken from others, the environment and future generations”

    Cheers, Ed Deak, Big Lake, BC, Canada.

  35. Sam Moore, PhD

    Hi Paul:

    Good piece. You are right that many great things are happening. It is also pretty exciting. You might be interested in the latest issue of WIRED Magazine. It would make a great point/counter-point to take this Wired piece on catastrophe aversion, that points out the chicken little effect and the results of human response to many issues, and place your ideas within this context.

    I am a big fan of your ideas and use your book in my classes on sustainable enterprise. I do think that it is time to recognize what efforts worldwide are working and worth investing in and which ones are BS or dead ends.

    Examining these efforts, some global, some local, some regional and their strengths and weaknesses begin to provide some solutions or reasonable paths of action that move beyond predictions.

    Let’s do it.

    Sam Moore, PhD
    Elon, NC

  36. Hi Paul,

    I’ve long enjoyed your writing, and this post is superb.

    In the August 21st NYT there was an article entitled “Price Wars Seen Hurting Solar Sector in China”, and it contained some interesting factoids:

    “Chinese polysilicon producers…rely heavily on coal-fired power and have a history of spills of toxic chemicals.

    “Solar panels are sometimes compared to batteries because it takes so much electricity to make the polysilicon that it can take two years for the panel to generate enough electricity to offset the power used to make it.”

    If this is true, that solar panel production is so electricity intensive – with the energy derived largely from fossil fuels such as coal – and then once online can take so long to offset the energy used to produce them…that would seem to be two serious drawbacks to solar (not that we have too many energy alternatives to choose from). So, I’m just curious what your take is on this.

    Thanks for your great work!

  37. Ed Deak

    We all learn in highschools, all over the world, that any action causes equal reaction, then spend years in universities, brainwashed, to forget the facts and replace them with faith based theories.

    As we are doing it now with our fraudulent monetary system licencing destruction, while calling it GDP and “growth”.

    The fact is that no matter what kind of energy we use, the reactions will be the same, sooner or later.

    Economic systems and actions move on three well known physical laws: Thermodynamics, the laws of reaction and speed.

    Which means, that all economic systems should be based on the least/lowest inputs of resources and energy to avoid the reactions and ensure the sustainability of the system.

    Right now we’re using huge energy inputs to displace workers while calling it “cost efficiency”.

    It is taught in our universities as a “science” to use two contradicting definitions within the same system, with faith overruling facts.????????????

    Since the beginning of history the the power elites of the human race have been inventing all kinds of faith based nonsense, and excuses, to overrule solid facts, causing the horrible repetitions of legalized criminal acts, disguised as “heroism”

    This makes history the chronicle of incredible human stupidity, through the ages.

    How long can, or should this nonsense go on ?

    Ed Deak.

  38. Ian McLean

    It is true that I am already struggling with what it is that I need to teach my 4 and 7 yr-old girls. Is it how to survive in a post-apocalyptic world, or is it how to endure a world in which technological and environmental failure mean that the comforts of today will be in memory only. These are not the same thing – the failure of the industrial world does not have to mean the failure of our social and environmental worlds, although the three are certainly deeply inter-twined and will not separate easily. For the moment, we focus on how to live simply, how to cooperate with others, and how to create necessary resources. But tugging at my gut is an insistent feeling that I am missing something. I think it is hiding in our political system, and I think and hope that Green economics and politics, operating within the current system will show the way forward. But even they may not be enough.

  39. Stephen G

    G’day Paul,

    As usual the thing I enjoy most about your articles is the quality, calibre and variety of comments that you so well encourage and engender.

    And it makes me wonder…with so many good folk with so many different yet sensible ideas & points of view, is democracy subject to economies of scale and points of diminishing returns?

    If it does and if indeed we are seeing them unfold, are there any pleasant alternatives?


    Stephen G

  40. Michael D. Breen

    Thanks Paul. When it is a matter of survival a group goes into a fight/flight mode. You document how the rich now fight for dwindling resources. And at the same time others flee from reason and reality. Some of your respondents accept everything you say giving the article messianic status, so at the danger of being a death’s head at the feast I question some of your reasoning. Your argument is mainly economic. We are more than economic beings even if the flavour of world explainations is through economic theories. If minds and paradigms don’t change we will just get more of the same, as you and others point out. I would have thought that minds have to change for the economics ( a somewhat novel and adolescent discipline) to change. The emotions cloud reason -especially when survival is the focus. So how do we work to change the minds which matter? The science and economic data is in. The problem is to get the many or the powerful to run with the new ideas. Solar panels, and all that, fine. But what about finance industries and practitioners who make money out of armaments or out of money, mostly that of other people? Once there was a moral code which influenced behaviour and mostly still does, but the crimes against humanity causing mass suffering are the actions of the powergreed of elites. Your arguments sort of suggest that we are sealed in a cave and running out of resources so need to make different ones. Surely there are other ways to bring about change by understanding and exposing the lies of anti-social trading and acquisition. A lot of current education is a paid for meal ticket, not the deep inquiry and challenging of ideas. New thinking needs to include new, dare I say, moral thinking. Western civilization has relied on churches and theology to guide and preserve human dignity. Now they are busted the force they exercised needs to be replaced. Green industries are, after all, only a part of the map of a better future.

  41. Michael D. Breen

    Thinking about matters you raise, Paul, and maybe you will deal with later I wonder how an individualistic mindset can be changed into a cooporative, collaborative one. If you want to think in terms of epochs this would be the end of the Reformation era where Protestantist theologians proposed an elect and a dammed mass and the elect would be blessed in this world by their riches. Capitalism makes enemies of us all, it is the survival of the fittest. How can we rethink compassion, care for others, acquisitiveness, consumerism and the cults of winning and celebrity idols? How do we make financial institutions responsible to all? How do we get citizens to take democracy seriously, as engaged persons? How do we regulate the veracity and principles of media? Maybe I am previous and these are all matters for your later work. Cheers, Michael

  42. Paul, I am disappointed to see you giving people hope. I see it in many of the comments above. “Great article, Paul!”, etc. I would counsel another attitude, namely that of the addict who has finally hit bottom, confronted imminent mortality, and come to the end of his/her denial.

    I think it IS important to strike a balance between optimism and pessimism. But the pessimism is bigger than even you have imagined. To look away from it is to continue the addict’s denial. To look at it is to feel the pain of personal responsibility, and, from that vantage point, to truly OWN the problem.

    I am not going to engage in debating any of your points. However, if you would like to wake up a bit more, then I will ask you to consider one further possibility, namely the extinction of the human race. It seems outlandish, yet it would be wise to consider it (IMHO).

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